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Rhododendron catawbiense

The species that was to prove the most important of all came to this country from America as the result of Russian patronage, odd though this may sound today. John Fraser and his son were collecting plants in America for the Emperor Paul of Russia and one of their discoveries was Rhododendron catawbiense. This plant is not particularly spectacular in its flower, the colour is again mauve, and the flowers are not of any great size. But it does have two great advantages: its habit is comely and it is extremely hardy - able to withstand as much as sixty degrees of frost.

The Frasers found it on the great Roa or Board Mountain, but it was also discovered on the banks of the Catawba River which gives it its name. It was first grown in this country by the famous nurserymen, Messrs Lee and Kennedy, whose nursery was where Olympia now stands in Hammersmith, and they flowered it in 1813. The reason why this species is so important to the general cultivation of the rhododendron is that it was used for hybridization and it gave great hardiness to all its progeny, enabling rhododendrons to be grown in all parts of the British Isles where the soil is acid.

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