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Plant hunters first transported rhododendrons during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as was the case with so many other garden plants. As early as the seventeenth century, however, there were reports from Japan of beautiful azaleas, but political conditions made it impossible to import plants to Europe until much later.

In the meantime, collectors had been bringing back a number of important rhododendron species from North America and Asia Minor.

Like the Japanese, the Chinese also tended to close their country to foreign visitors and so the veritable "treasure house" of the Himalayas could only be guessed at until 1820.

The British were particularly enthusiastic. Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker - the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew - brought home 43 new rhododendron species alone. A second great wave of imports, around 1900-30, brought several hundred more species to Europe. Finding the most remote homes of rhododendrons often meant travelling, mainly on foot, for weeks, even months. Neither the climate nor the wild animals showed much consideration for the rhododendron fever that had gripped Europe, and native tribes-people did not welcome the intruders either, so many a collector literally risked life and limb in pursuit of his desire

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