Christmas Cheer seasonal pleasure

NATURAL WORLD

PAUL GAY
Last updated 11:10 25/06/2014
Southland Times photo
KING OF SHRUBS: Christmas Cheer rhododendron.

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In England and places with a similar climate and latitude this rhododendron flowers around Christmas time - right at the beginning of the season when it's likely to snow. It follows then, that in those localities, the name "Christmas Cheer" is quite appropriate.

Here in New Zealand, some six months later, this rhododendron is one of the first to flower and quite often it also brings us some "Christmas cheer" as we first notice it blooming on a dark day in the midst of a cold southerly storm.

Rhododendrons have been called the King of Shrubs as collectively they are said to produce the biggest flower show of any plant species. Well over 28,000 varieties have been recognised by growers and while most of these have now been lost or superseded, many growers still plant seeds in the hope of a new rhodo emerging from their crop of plants. The chances of this happening are actually pretty slim. Plant 500 seeds and the result is likely to be a crop of plants of varying shapes and sizes.

Choose 50 of these to "grow on" and after five years some might blossom for the first time. It's quite a wait and the result could be disappointing.

With good fortune, though, one of the plants might produce something special.

History records that the rhododendron in today's photograph is the result of Sir Joseph Banks' propogation work around 1803. He crossed a large mauve rhododendron with an unrecorded species and was fortunate enough to produce something special, a rhododendron that has brought pleasure to gardeners for over 200 years - Christmas Cheer.

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- The Southland Times

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