This is the iconic plant of Pukeiti, the rhododendron gardens set near Mount Taranaki. It is one of what is widely referred to as the big leafed rhodo group, grown in those gardens in the Valley of the Giants though this plant is on the cold hillside of our park here at Tikorangi. In the rhododendron world these are big – big leaves can be up to 50cm long and big flower trusses on large growing plants which, over time, can reach 5 metres tall by about 8 metres wide. These are not plants for the urban garden. While the plant itself is hardy, an untimely frost can turn the blooms to something resembling caramel icecream.
“Pukeiti” is a selection of R. protistum var. giganteum which itself a straight species. It was grown from seed collected by the intrepid plant hunter, Kingdon Ward, in the highlands of North Burma in 1953. It has a deeper colour than most of the other big leafed types we grow, with a big full truss of 30 individual blooms. These are described as funnel shaped and campanulate in form – slightly flattened, tubes which flare out to a frilly edge in non-technical language. The display this year is particularly good. We are hoping we don’t get a late frost.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.