When the handsome Rhododendron coeloneuron blooms in spring, flower and leaf magic has arrived. Look up and you’ll see attractive dark-green leaves hanging downwards with white-flushed pink flowers. If you get a close look, you’ll notice the flowers are splashed with red-purple flecks and the leaves look puckered or pinched. Also, the back of each leaf is covered with dense reddish-brown hair (indumentum).
Rhododendron coeloneuron is a large evergreen shrub or small tree that grows up to 2,300 m/7,000 ft in the mountains of southeast Sichuan and north Genzou. This easy- to-grow rhododendron was introduced in the 1990s. The seed was collected and propagated by Ted Millais of Millais Nursery in the UK.
The specific epithet ‘coeloneuron’ describes its puckered (bullate) leaves. In bullate leaves the growth of the leaf blade is a little faster than the veins. The upper leaf surface is forced to inflate slightly because it is trapped between the veins. This causes a ‘blistered’ or ‘bubbled’ leaf surface. As the venation pattern is regular, the series of inter-vein inflations are also regular. ‘Coelo’ means ‘air,' and ‘neuron’ translates as ‘cord’ (the veins). But ‘coelo’ can also mean ‘the space between heaven and earth’. That fits the day I saw this rhododendron. A tree gifted by heaven.
Our Rhododendron coeloneuron in bed 122 came from the Alpine Garden Club and the small tree one in bed 123 is from the Rhododendron Species Foundation (collection number 224SD95). The pictures were taken at the beginning of April. They are all of the large shrub rhododendron in bed 122 except for the small tree picture.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones