by Al Campbell
Cowichan Valley Chapter November 2005
Most members of the rhododendron society are aware that 90% of the known rhododendron species grow naturally on the Asian continent on the mountain ranges within the Nepal, Yunnan, Burma triangle. Here on Vancouver Island we can claim at least two native species. R. macrophyllum, the more well known species, grows only at two known locations on the Island, one at Rhododendron Lake west of Nanoose and the second location being on the San Juan Ridge west of Shawnigan Lake. The lesser-known species is R. albiflorum.
Perhaps R. albiflorum is not as well known as it’s larger cousin because it grows in more sub-alpine locals. R. albiflorum has been documented as growing at various altitudes from 4000 ft. on Mt. Brooks in Strathcona Park, 3500 ft. on Mt. Arrowsmith near Port Alberni and on Mt. Brenton near Chemainus, 3300 ft on the San Juan Ridge and at the 2300 ft. level on Mt. Benson near Nanaimo.
Many seed collectors and rhododendron species growers, such as the Rhododendron Species Foundation at Federal Way Washington, have tried growing R. albiflorum from seed collected from these higher altitudes with dismal success. Perhaps seed collected from the lowest growing forms on Mt. Benson could meet with more success.
In the book Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest by Lewis J. Clark and edited by John Trelawny of Victoria, R. albiflorum is noted to be “found at the 800 ft. level near Muchalat Inlet.” It is this observation that has caused quite a stir with the Rhododendron Species Foundation as well as the members of the Western North America Rhododendron Species Project.
I realize that ’near Muchalat Inlet’ covers a lot of territory from its entrance at Nootka Island to its head at Gold River but this low level form of R. albiflorum needs to be verified and seed collected. Surely some hikers, hunters, loggers or other nature buffs familiar with the area or who know of people familiar with or live in the Gold River area could get the word out there and track down this elusive ‘lowlander’.
This note has been sent to all ARS Chapters on Vancouver Island with the hope that a member in one or more of these local societies will have more information or knowledge of this low altitude form of ’albiflorum’. Now is the time for seed collection.