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Red rhododendrons


Red rhododendrons around Portland have been catching my eye. I can't say I find them attractive most of the year - when their leaves start to droop in summer, they look like the ears of tired old hound dogs - but their ruby red blooms are stunning. They are in Portland by way of the Himalayas and Britain.

In 1820, Nathaniel Wallich was exploring below the white peaks of the Himalayas when he saw tree rhododendrons blazing with red blooms. Lovely! He collected their seeds, packed them in brown sugar, and shipped them home to Britain. So "arrived the glorious red blood that transformed the relatively tame and dowdy colours of the rhododendrons then known", writes Hugh Johnson in The International Book of Trees. "Waterers, the famous nurserymen of Surrey, were the pioneers in adapting this tender giant to cultivation".

Joseph Hooker's expedition to Sikkim from 1848 to 1850 allowed him to collect many rare and wonderful rhododendrons, though the diwan of Sikkim imprisoned him for his troubles. Hooker "set the seal on the rhododendron as the supreme flowering evergreen".

And here they are.