griffithianum x caucasium
"The Time Machine was left deserted on the turf among the rhododendrons."
-H. G. Wells
'Mrs. Furnival' evergreen rhododendron is an old Anthony Waterer Ironclad derived from crossing an R. griffithianum hybrid with an R. caucasium hybrid, & dating to at latest 1920. It is named after Waterer's sister, Mrs. Charles John Furnival.
Of its parents, R. griffithianum first arrived in England from the Himalayas in 1858. Its ornamental strengths were at once evident, with its extravagantly large white flowers.
It was destined to become one of the top two or three choices for hybridization programs for a hundred & fifty years. Griffith's rhody as a species shrub could be a little tender, & hybridization sought not ony to preserve its ornamental powers, but increase its hardiness.
'Mrs. Furnival's' other parent R. caucasium is native to the Caucasus region from Northeast Turkey to the Republic of Georgia. It is not often gardened as a species shrub, but has of late dubiously become something of a health-food fad among herbalists who sell extracts & powders from the leaves as a diet aid, stimulant, & for depression & anxiety, & to fight colon cancer. Proof efficacy inevitably has not been forthcoming.
By late April, this shrub has enormous colorful buds, as in the second photo. In May & sometimes lasting into June, 'Mrs. Furnival' bursts forth its enormous trusses of light pink flowers which have conspicuous red dorsal blotch.
In some years these trusses of as many as seventeen funnel-bells are so large & so numerous over the shrub that the leaves temporarily disappear.
'Mrs. Furnival' remains a significant shrub in modern breeding programs, as the large flower size & compactness of the leaves are traits desired in new cultivars.
A smallish shrub, it's ten year size is just four feet tall, five wide, densely leafed. This recipient of the Award of Garden Merit is vigorous & densely leafed, sun tolerant, cold hardy at minus ten or 15 degrfees F., & prefers bright shade though tolerating considerable sun.
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