"Mindful of you the sodden earth in spring,
And all the flowers that in the springtime grow."
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
At the foot of a naturally stunted alpine fir we have the rare dwarf evergreen Rhododendron tsai which stands a bit less than a foot upright in full morning sun at the mouth of a shade-plant corridor. Its ten year height can be two feet or 30 inches, so it is very slow growing, & will always be a tiny shrub.
It's most charming feature is its teency-tiny round leaves, smaller even than the leaves on its tiny-leafed near relative R. hippophaeoides.
R. tsai is an alpine species from Yunnan & Sichuan, China, but our specimen is more precisely R. tsai "affinity" because it is not quite the pure species. It is thought to be a wild-occurring intermediate type that almost certainly has R. hippophaeoides in its heritage, & is known only from the Sichuan (Szechwan) side of the Yangtze River.
Ours came to us from the Rhododendron Species Federation Botanical Garden, & is derived from specimens collected as seed in Daliang Shan, Sichuan, on a mountain slope above 11,150 feet.
Hardy to minus five degrees F., it prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Moist rich soil that drains well is a must. It would not likely adjust to warmer zones but is ideal for the Pacific Northwest coastal region & Puget Sound.
The majority of the Yunnan & Sichuan dwarf rhodies, of which there are quite a number, bloom in the color range of violet & purple. In keeping with this common trait, R. tsai has pale lavender-blue blooms, which are long lasting on the shrub. The flowers are less than a half-inch width in clusters, smaller even than for R. hippophaeoides, & could charm the pants off a bee.
The photo at the top of the page was taken April 16th, 2003, the morning the very first flower buds opened, with many other buds waiting a couple more days to burst forth. The photo is a bit larger than life size, & really conveys the charm of the small leaves. The second photo was taken at month's end. The leaves intruding into the portrait from above are from a clump of Spring Vetchling (Lathyrus vernus).
For more photos of this small shrub, see the
R. tsai page of the Rhododendron Blossoms Gallery.
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