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Variegated Rhododendrons and Azaleas

By Dr. Philip Waldman

One of the most beautiful species to brighten a shady corner of the garden with variegated leaves is the rhododendron. Among the best rhododendrons which show variegation in their foliage, adding tremendously to their year round ornamentality, are:
'Claydian Variegated' A tissue culture sport of 'Madame Masson' from Clay Nurseries in British Columbia with leaves having a distinct white border enclosing a green center. White flowers touched by a golden flare bloom in May. It is a well shaped plant and hardy to -15^F, but is a slow grower.

'Goldflimmer' A German introduction with splashes of sunny yellow in the center of the leaf. It is probably a R. ponticum sport with rather non-descript lavender flowers in May. It is an excellent grower, rather vigorous, and propogates easily. The plant is well shaped, and it is hardy to -15^F. There is a slight tendency for reversions of all green shoots which should be removed. Similar plants include 'Sunsplash' which was found in Malcolm Whipple's garden on Long Island, NY and a large unknown plant growing at Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton, MA.

R.ponticum 'Variegatum' A popular variety with long dark green leaves enhanced by a white margin. It is an upright vigorous grower, hardy to -15^F, and has reddish-purple flowers in spring. It roots well and grows easily.

'President Roosevelt' A variety with a golden yellow variegation in the middle of the green leaf and a picotee flower of a red edge fading to a white center. This plant was discovered in Holland in the 1920's and is not very popular. It has limited hardiness and a propensity towards a poor root system. It has acquired the derogatory nickname of "Tumbling Teddy" due to its weak stems and their tendency to break off easily from the root ball.

'Yaku Princess Sport' A new variety which offers excellent possibilities. It has a distinct gold center in the leaf, contrasting well with the dark green margin. It has light pink flowers and appears to be stable.

Other sports have been observed in gardens and collections: but, due to difficulties in propogating them or their excessively slow growth, they are not suited for commercial production.
There were very few variegated azaleas available in the US until recently, but with the public interest in new and unusual varieties, more are becoming available. Originally there were only a few variegated Satsuki varieties. These were:

'Keigetsu' One of the earliest blooming Satsukis with light pink flowers and a red margin. The green leaves are flecked with white on a low spreading plant.

'Uki Nishiki' White flowers with many variegations of stripes, flecks, etc. of a dark purple. The leaves are flecked with yellow.

'Shira Fuji' The flowers are variable, generally white with purple variations. The leaves have an attractive distinct white margin on a dwarf plant. This is a newer introduction and a worthwhile plant.

'Shinnyo No Tsuki Sport' Very large white flowers with crimson blotches bloom in June. The leaves sport cream stripes longitudinally throughout.

'Fuji No Mine' A dwarf cultivar admired for its unusual foliage-the leaves are variegated with many flecks of yellow. Pink flowers with a darker circle bloom in June.

American growers began introducing variegated azaleas in the late 1980's and early 1990's. One of the most popular and now widely available is 'Silver Sword', a sport of 'Girard's Rose' with a distinct white margin bordering a dark green leaf. It is a vigorous grower, and the leaves have a beautiful reddish color in winter. Other Girard plants with white margined foliage included 'Girard's Variegated Gem', a sport of pink flowered 'Border Gem', and 'Hot Shot Variegated' with bright orange-red flowers. These varieties tend to have a lighter green color in their leaves.
Two recent introductions which are sports of 'Girard's Rose' and similar to 'Silver Sword' are 'Brainne' which is a Blue Sterling Nursery introduction and is supposed to be hardier and has a much thinner and longer green leaf with the white margin and ‘The Robe'. A Buds and Bloom introduction which is almost identical to 'Silver Sword'.
Two southern varieties of the white margined types discovered in the 1980's are 'Southern Belle', a sport of 'Pink Ruffles', and 'Red Ruffles Variegated'. Another lovely choice is 'Silver Streak', a Greenwood hybrid with white margined foliage and purple flowers which is a sport of 'Deep Purple'.

There are very few variegated deciduous azaleas. Among them are two species, a white margined R. 'canescens' which was found in Florida and R. austrinum 'Don's Variegated'. Both have bright green leaves with creamy marbled flecks.