Lavender Spider Azalea
"The koromo I had hoped to wear
upon my return home has lost its colors.
I cannot forget the name of my
little village in Kishima."
The 'Koromo Shikibu' Azalea is of unknown origin. It was for some while thought to be a species rhododendron, but was not known to exist in the wild.
It was formerly thought to be related to Rhododendron linearifolium var macrosepalum, the Spider Azalea, itself now renamed R. stenopetalum 'Linearifolium,' which is one of our favorites of the more unusual types of azleas.
Even though it is still often listed as a variety of 'Linearifolium,' the Lavender Spider Azalea is now more commonly designated as the cultivar, R. macrosepalum 'Koromo Shikibu,' & is no longer considered to be a unique strain of R. stenopetalum.
Present thinking is that R. macrosepalum, the Large-Sepaled Azalea, became crossed with an unknown pollinator to produce this unique plant.
Whether this occurred spontaneously, or was the conscious effort of an unrecorded Japanese hybridizer, may never be known.
It has been surmised & repeated time & again that it is a "Kurume" hybrid. This appears to be based solely on the similarity of the names Kurume to Koromo. There is no serious basis for this alleged association beyond names that sound alike to western ears, & you will not find any small evergreen Kurume azalea that resembles 'Koromo Shikibu.'
I've never seen an explanation of how it acquired its cultivar name, but it's fun to guess. It could allude to the flowing robes of Lady Murasaki Shikibu (973-1016), author of the world's first great novel, The Tale of Genji. If that is the case case, then 'Koromo Shikibu' means "Robed Shikibu," a vision of refined beauty, since no court lady ever dressed more carefully or with more subtle grace.
Another great poet, Lady Izumi Shikibu, was likewise famed for her tasteful arrangement of garments. She is quoted at the top of this article. The name of the little village in Kishimi, which her poem notes she could never forget, was the same as her own name, Izumi. Aportrait of Izumi Shikibu is provided immediately to the right. This portrait focuses as much attention on her clothing as herself
Or the name 'Koromo Shikibu' could mean this azalea has had some association with the Koromo River, in a factory region where Toyotas are made. In former times the Koromo region was famous for the autumn colors of its oaks, which were likened to a forest wearing a koromo or robe.
In turn, koromo robes hung outside to dry, with autumn winds blowing on them, were said to evoke the sound of impending winter, of wind the the falling leaves. Hence the poet Sangi Masatsune (1170-1221) composed an autumn poem about the end of autumn: "I hear the sound of winter, of wind beating upon koromo."
If any of this was intended by the name of our azalea, if the name alludes to the Koromo region clothed in spring flowers or autumn leaf-colors, then 'Koromo Shikibu' can be interpretted as "Koromo River ceremonies," such as traditional autumn-leaves-viewing ceremonies. The viewers, like the riverbanks, would be decked out in finery.
Those are just my guesses for why it was dubbed 'Koromo Shikibu.' Perhaps someday someone will tell me why it was so named, & all my guesses will have been wrong.
The leaves are broad & in no way resemble the actual Spider Azalea. The flower's delicately luminous orchid-lavender petals are narrow & separated enough to be very different from the usual appearance of any other azalea, even though not nearly strappy enough to resemble the true Spider Azalea per se.
It can bloom as early as mid-March, & certainly by the first week of April, with flowers tghat are quite long-lasting. When grown a bit further south, it often reblooms in Autumn, & may also be more nearly an evergreen. I'll have to wait the year out to see how it behaves in our zone; it would certainly be grand if it turned out to be a re-bloomer.
It was already flowering when we brought it home from early April's annual spring sale at the Rhododendron Species Foundation. On the drive home, Granny Artemis & I didn't yet know which of the plants we'd obtained was the one with such a wonderful scent filling the interior of our car. It was by no means overwhelming as some flowers can be in such close confines, but was most pleasing. It turned out to be 'Koromo Shikibu,' one of the loveliest perfumes of any azalea, just the right balance of strength & subtlty.
Its ten-year height is expected to be only about four feet, hence a dwarf or semi-dwarf. Ours is in 2004 just shy of two feet. It is upright & spreading, about as wide as it is tall. It can withstand winters down to five degrees Fahrenheit. If autumns are sufficiently chilly, the leaves will take on a beautiful orange-red coloration.
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