R. gongshanense

This is a very unusual newly introduced rhododendron species. The forebears of this plant live in the broad-leaved evergreen forests of the Gaoligang Mountains of NW Yunnan, China.

Light to dark red flowers come in compact, attractive trusses. The foliage, rough and narrow, with prominent veins, looks “like a palm tree,” at least the Hawaiian shirt kind.

The bronze-colored new growth and the hairy undersides of the leaves add beauty and interest.

Because the new growth starts very early in the year – January or early February – this plant is best suited for milder areas. In colder areas you might keep it outside in a large container and bring it into the garage or house if there is going to be a hard frost. We had planted out several seedlings, and two of them came through the fall and winter trials of 2010 with flying colors, so perhaps there is hope.

This rhododendron will like: Partial shade – Small amounts of fertilizer on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day – Gentle watering – Well-aerated soil with good drainage – Protection from deep cold below 20 degrees F.