Ironclad Rhododendron

"Should I pluck it,
My hands would defile the flower;
I offer it, as it stands,
To the Buddhas of the Three Worlds."

-Empress Komyo


Rhododendron 'America' is an old Ironclad, among the hardiest of classic hybrids. It is cold-hardy, heat-hardy, & likes it out in the sun.

It is an ideal choice for gardens that lack trees to provide dappled shade required by so many rhododendrons, or for exposed roadside locations.

'America' was developed by the Dutch hybridizers M. Koster & Sons in 1920 by crossing R. catawbiense 'Parson's Grandiflorum' with an unnamed bright red Catawba hybrid.

The same nursery firm had more than twenty years earlier crossed the same two parent cultivars to achieve the still-popular 'Nova Zembla.'

'America' has trusses half to two-thirds the size of 'Nova Zembla,' & looser limb structure. 'America' blooms for us starting about mid April (when the photo above was taken), whereas 'Nova Zembla' blooms at the tail end of May & much of June.

Two other bright reds in our gardens conspire to keep big red trusses in evidence for the longest possible length of time. One is 'Jean Marie de Montague' which has the biggest of big red trusses, denser foliage than either 'Nova Zemba' or 'America,' & starts blooming right at the start of May.

The other is 'Hill's Bright Red' which though large-leafed is much smaller in stature, much more compactly leafed, & in full flower at the start of April. Between these four large-leaf evergreens, intense red trusses are in abundance for a good eleven weeks.

All these are to the blue edge of intensely red, & all are sun-lovers. 'America' is the most sun-loving of all. We have both 'Jean Marie' & 'America' in a very exposed full-sun spot in a streetside garden, where they thrive.

'America' will not bloom in deep shade, & it blooms tepidly in moderate shade plus it becomes quite leggy & too thinly leafed. In full sun (for half a day) it produces more leaves & way more flowers, though it always remains rather open.

Some have described 'America' as having a tendency to grow with a scraggly too-thinly leafed appearance. But an old specimen such as we have, with rugged twists & turns to its limb structure, can provide extreme delight by always showing the bones of its structure.


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