Most people know and admire rhododendrons for their brilliant flowers and handsome, evergreen foliage. Typically they grow as shrubs anywhere from 3 to 5 feet tall and come in a wide array of colors. They are, understandably, very popular residential subjects. But there are some Rhododendron species that are not shrubs but more tree-like and one of these is Scarlet rhododendron, or Tree rhododendron, or Rhododendron arboreum.

Rhododendron arboreum is the national flower of Nepal, and is also found in Bhutan, China, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Its name means ‘tending to be woody or growing in a tree-like form’ and although it typically grows to 35 feet tall with a similar spread, it has been recorded in excess of 90 feet. Imagine a tree festooned with brilliant scarlet flowers, 40, 50, 60 feet tall. Obviously it is one of the boldest flowering trees available. The show starts in early to mid-spring when trusses of 15-20 beautiful flowers are produced in red, pink or white. But rhododendron foliage is so handsome that Tree rhododendron is a year round asset. And being evergreen it may also serve as a screen. There is also a subspecies, Rhododendron arboreum subspecies cinnamoneum whose dark green leaves are cinnamon-brown beneath and whose white flowers are speckled with deep red spots on the inner surface of the petals.

Tree rhododendron is confined to a very specific environment. It prefers mild winters, mild summers and plenty of cool, moist weather under high shade in a humusy rich, acidic, woodland soil. It does extremely well in Canada’s British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the US and it's popular in the UK. As always, trees as rare as this will not be easy to find but there are specialty plant nurseries that carry them.


Tree rhododendron

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