R. telmateium

Rhododendron telmateium

"There will be rose & rhododendron
When you are dead & under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas
Heavy with bees, a sunny sound."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay,
Elegy Before Death


This article begins with an Elegy composed by Edna St. Vincent Millay because this rhododendron did not make it.

We planted the eighteen-inch tall dwarf Rhododendron telmateium along the step-down path of a rock garden, with a comparatively large dwarf Rododendron "Brickdust" at the side of the step immediately above it. R. telmateium grows to be two or three feet tall, but as that is its ten-year size, it remains very small for quite some while; it was not apt to hinder our garden access by the step-down by overgrowing its location.

This step-down location pretty well duplicated its native habitat on slopes in the mountains of China, except in China its soil would be rockier. It seemed truly the perfect location, for this shrub likes sun or part shade, & got a good portion of sun where we planted it. It is hardy to minus ten degrees F., but not at all heat-hardy.

We alas had a record-breaking heatwave in summer 2003 & we lost this heat-sensitive high-elevation species shrubs, which had only been in the ground since early spring (2003). We had it long enough to see its tiny violet flowers & were very pleased with it. But it had not been long enough in the ground to have established itself very well when the hardship of a record-hot month killed it. During that seem heatwave, we lost another heat-sensitive shrub, "Karin Seleger," which was a cross between two species, one subalpine the other subarctic; the extended summer heatwave just withered it away. There was some sun-damage done a couple others, but they recovered.

We've not decided whether or not to replace this specimen with the same species. If we do, it will have to go in a more protected space, in case global warming causes consecutive record-breaking summers that it wouldn't like.

Though I feel just miserable on the rare occasions when we lose a little shrub like this, at least this one somewhat duplicated other of our species rhodies that share its general appearance. The species is categorized under subsection "Lapponica" which consists of over 40 species sharing in common a dwarf or semi-dwarf upright or occasionally prostrate habit, the greater majority having similar little lavender or violet blooms.

Of the other examples of this subsection which are doing extremely well for us, one is a mature little shrub, R. yungningense, plus two additional shrubs from subsection Lapponica that are still quite young, R. hippophaeoides & the rare R. tsai.

Since these similar shrubs are all doing splendidly, perhaps we won't get another R. telmateium. All of these "Lapponica" species have fairly tiny leaves & bloom in shades of purple or violet. R. telmateium has half-inch little rose-lavender flowers with white throat, in tiny trusses of only one to three. The wee buds began opening on ours on May 6, & I photographed its very first flower of the season on that day, shown at the top of this page. It is the opposite of showy, but so extremely charming it was just painful to see it turn grey & fail during the summer heatwave.

There are four outdated synyonyms for this rhody: RR. diacritum, drumonium, idoneum, & pycnocladum.


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