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Rhododendron ´Loderi´ - How distinct are the different clones?

by Everard Daniel, September 2002

It is now 100 years since Sir Edmund Loder made that most famous of crosses between Rh. fortunei and Rh. griffithianum, and this centenary is being celebrated at Leonardslee. Of course, the cross had been made before and called Rh. x kewense, but it is always said that the results were definitely inferior and it is good that the taxonomists have allowed the later name to be used, when the earlier would normally take precedence.

To produce this world-famous cross, Leonardslee teamed up with Col. Godman at South Lodge, on the other side of the road, as he had a particularly fine form of Rh. griffithianum growing under glass. This plant is alas long-since lost, though there are other plants of this species still growing there, in the gardens of what is now a hotel. I often wonder whether these are from the same batch of seed as that famous parent. They seem perfectly hardy there, despite the tender reputation that this species has. It is recorded that the cross was made 3 times, with pollen being carried across the road in both directions but that the best results came from R. griffithianum pollen onto R. fortunei, which was done twice. The reverse cross produced flowers that were much like R. fortunei; was this chance or could there be a genetic reason?

Apparently, the cross was first done in 1901, and the first flowers were seen in 1907, probably on ´Diamond´, now known as ´White Diamond´. Robin Loder is certain that the best clones come from this first batch. ´Diamond´ and ´Pink Diamond´ were first to be shown and both were awarded the FCC, in 1914. ´King George´ had to wait for the FCC until 1970.

Quite a number of different clones have been registered and although it is the name of ´King George´ that everyone knows, I have long felt that, as they are all closely related and indeed many are ´sisters´, it would be a braver man than me that would walk up to a plant and identify which clone it is! The differences are very slight, and you could easily think two trusses are from different clones when in fact they came from opposite sides of the same plant. I certainly feel that the descriptions one generally reads are inadequate for positive identification. As they are so similar and so popular, and therefore widely propagated and planted all over the world, it is inevitable that they have become confused and so many plants are grown under the wrong name.

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