Shrub or small tree, to 6(–8) m; vegetative shoots arising from axillary buds associated with the lowest scaly leaves of the present year’s shoots; young twigs glabrous. Leaves turning red in autumn, arranged in pseudowhorls of 3(–5) at the apices of the branches, 1–5.8 × 0.6–3.6 cm rhombic-elliptic to obovate, apex acute to rounded, base cuneate, lower surface glabrous or unicellular-pubescent, the midrib usually with long straight or crisped unicellular hairs, especially towards base. Pedicels glabrous or with eglandular or gland-tipped hairs. Flowers not scented, appearing with the leaves, solitary or up to 3, in a contracted raceme; calyx 1–3 mm; corolla white, with greenish spots on upper lobes, rotate-funnelform, the short tube abruptly contracted into the longer limb, 17–32 mm. Capsule glabrous to sparsely unicellular-pubescent, especially at apex. Flowering April-May. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution Japan Honshu, Shikoku
Habitat 300–1,700 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Awards AM 1931 (Dowager Countess Cawdor, Haslemere); flowers white, spotted pale green. AM 1958 (E. de Rothschild, Exbury) to a clone 'Five Arrows' flowers white, with olive green spots. AGM 1993
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Taxonomic note This species is probably closely allied to R. pentaphyllum but may be distinguished by the position of the vegetative buds and by the flower colour. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
A deciduous azalea of low, bushy habit, but sometimes a small tree in the wild; shoots glabrous, branches erect, forked. Leaves produced in whorls of five (with sometimes one or two very small ones in addition) at the end of the shoot only, broadly obovate or somewhat diamond-shaped, rounded at the apex, except for a short, abrupt tip, tapering at the base to a very short bristly stalk; they vary in size in each set of five, the largest being 11⁄2 to 2 in. long by 1 in. wide, the smallest not half as large, upper surface sparsely hairy when young, the lower one hairy about the margin and along the midrib; both sides pale green, often with a purplish margin. Flowers solitary, in pairs or in threes, produced with the young leaves from the terminal bud. Corolla broadly funnel-shaped, 11⁄2 in. across, white with green spots, the lobes ovate. Stamens ten, hairy at the base. (s. Azalea ss. Schlippenbachii)
Native of Japan; discovered by Mr Bisset in 1876; introduced about twenty years later by Lord Redesdale. This azalea is most distinct and attractive in its foliage, especially in spring when the leaves are of a tender green bordered with purple, each whorl of five forming an umbrella-like group at the top of a slender twig; they usually colour well in the autumn. It is also very beautiful in April when covered with its white flowers, though these are not borne freely on young plants. It needs a sheltered position in light shade.
R. quinquefolium received an Award of Merit when shown by the Dowager Countess Cawdor, Haslemere, on April 28, 1931. A First Class Certificate was given to a fine form grown at Exbury, exhibited on April 18, 1967, by Edmund de Rothschild. It bears the clonal name ‘Five Arrows’.