Deciduous shrub or small tree, to 2.5(–5) m; vegetative shoots arising from buds in the axils of the lowest scale-like leaves; young twigs usually covered with unicellular and a few gland-tipped hairs. Leaves turning yellow, orange or red in autumn, arranged in pseudowhorls of (4–)5(–9) at the apices of the branches, 2.5–11.7 × 0.9–7.2 cm, orbicular to broadly obovate or elliptic, apex obtuse or rounded and mucronate, base cuneate, lower surface glabrous to sparsely unicellular-pubescent, midrib with short curled hairs and fringed with longer straight or crisped hairs. Pedicels usually covered with eglandular hairs or occasionally with unicellular hairs only. Flowers not scented, appearing before or with the leaves, 3–6, in an umbellate raceme; calyx 1.5–7 mm; corolla light to deep pink, with red-brown spots on upper lobes, broadly rotate to funnelform, the short tube expanding gradually into the longer limb, 23–47 mm. Capsule covered with gland-tipped hairs. Flowering April-May. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution North Korea South Korea Russia E
Habitat 400–1,500 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Awards AM 1896 (Messrs J. Veitch & Sons, Chelsea); flowers soft pink. FCC 1944 (Lord Aberconway, Bodnant); flowers Rhodamine Pink. FCC 1965 (Sir Giles Loder, Leonardslee, Sussex) to a clone 'Prince Charming'; flowers Rhodamine Pink, with darker tinges, spotted deep crimson. AGM 1993
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Taxonomic note This species is distantly related to R. pentaphyllum and R. quinquefolium on account of its whorled leaves but is very different from either. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
A deciduous shrub up to 10 or 15 ft high; twigs bristly when young. Leaves in a terminal cluster of about five, each 21⁄2 to 5 in. long, 11⁄2 to 3 in. wide, obovate or somewhat diamond-shaped, tapering at the base, blunt or slightly notched at the apex, glabrous on both surfaces except for a few scattered bristles above and loose down beneath when young. Flowers in clusters of three to six, on glandular-hairy stalks about 1 in. long, opening in April or May. Calyx about 3⁄16 in. long, glandular-hairy, with ovate lobes. Corolla 3 to 31⁄2 in. across, widely funnel-shaped, with five rounded lobes, white or soft rose, spotted with reddish brown on the three upper lobes. Stamens ten, downy towards the base. Ovary and lower part of.style glandular. Bot. Mag., t. 7373. (s. Azalea ss. Schlippenbachii)
Native mainly of Korea, but also found in bordering parts of Russia and China; long cultivated in Japan, but not indigenous there. It was discovered by Baron Schlippenbach on the coast of east Korea in 1854 and collected again nine years later in the Korean archipelago by Richard Oldham. The first introduction was by J. G. Veitch in 1893, from a Japanese garden, but most of the cultivated plants in Britain derive from the seeds which Wilson collected in Korea in 1917 and 1918.
R. schlippenbachii is a plant of exquisite beauty, and its fine leaves, suffused with purplish red when young, are the largest and most striking among azaleas. Unfortunately it suffers from a defect very common in trees and shrubs from the mainland of north-east Asia: it is excited into growth by early warmth only to have its young growths destroyed by frost. So far as winter frost is concerned it is quite hardy, but is a hopeless subject except in warm or elevated districts where spring frosts are infrequent. Being an inhabitant of thin oakwoods in a region with hot and sunny summers it needs plenty of light and does not thrive in very acid soils. A light soil enriched with leaf-mould is better than a peaty one.
R. schlippenbachii received an Award of Merit when shown by Messrs Veitch in 1896. A form with Rhodamine Pink flowers from Bodnant was given a First Class Certificate in 1944, and the clone ‘Prince Charming’ from Leonardslee received the same award in 1965 when shown by Sir Giles Loder. In this too the colour of the flowers is Rhodamine Pink.