A rhododendron flowering in late January? Yes, and a big, fragrant white one at that. It is something of a visual surprise each time I look at the curved border of rhododendrons, all resolutely green with their spring foliage still fresh and bright. There, in their midst, is a large plant flowering freely.
R. diaprepes is one of the Rhododendron fortunei group. Any plant which bears a variation of the word fortune in its name has been named, and in most cases was first collected by, one of Britain’s foremost plant collectors – Robert Fortune. He was also responsible for getting tea out of China and into British control in India but that is another story. However, it was not he who collected R. diaprepes from the Yunnan area of China. It was found later. He did collect the species, R. fortunei which has a sub species in the form of R. decorum (which flowers earlier and is a little smaller than diaprepes but otherwise similar). Then R. decorum has a subspecies in the form of diaprepes. Got that? Our rhododendron is a sub sub species (or ssp). It probably does not matter unless you are into the botany and taxonomy of rhododendrons.
R. diaprepes has big flowers, big buds, big leaves and is several metres high. Although it has a little thrip (which is what causes silver foliage), it is not too bad in that department and overall, the foliage is pretty clean and healthy. This is a collector’s rhododendron. The chances of finding it offered for sale these days are probably zero in this country. It is a good reason to learn how to do your own propagation if you want the unexpected delight and fragrance of such a late flowering cultivar in your own garden.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.