Dr. Benjamin Hall, professor of biology and genome sciences at the University of Washington, has traveled throughout the Northwest collecting the wild rhododendron DNA, and his research has concluded that the Rhododendron macrophyllum found along the Oregon Coast has a unique DNA sequence. One consequence of this research may lead to revision of the currently accepted system
of rhododendron classification.
The uniqueness of the coastal rhododendron emphasizes the importance of the Siuslaw Chapter
of the America Rhododendron Society’s “Search for the R. macrophyllum” project. The chapter, for the past six years, has sought the assistance of the public in identifying and collecting seeds and cuttings of superior plants. The group then chooses the most exceptional for propagation. The results of how well they’ve done will be released in May at the 100th anniversary of Florence’s Rhododendron Festival at the American Rhododendron Society Rhody Show. Future plans involve planting the propagated seedlings in local parks and other public spaces.
“Everyone traveling along the Oregon Coast has been asked to help with the search for superior R. macrophyllum,” says Gene Cockeram, chairman of the project. “Each plant that is collected and successfully propagated will be given a name. If it is one that you found, you will have the opportunity to name it.”
Although Florence is the center of the search area, it extends from Lincoln City south to Brookings. In the most common pink form, a superior rhododendron has large foliage and a truss composed of at least 20 flowers. If it’s a rare white or light red form, the chapter will be interested in seeing it no matter how many flowers are in the truss. Also, they are interested in any superior early or late bloomers, regardless of color. Rhododendrons bloom along the coast in late April, May, June, and a few into July. Even though the chapter planned to complete this project by the 100th Rhododendron Festival, newly discovered outstanding R. macrophyllum will continue to be accepted. So the search project is not over.
If you spot a real beauty among the wild rhodies, contact Gene Cockeram (541-997-2377) for the Central Coast and Bob MacIntyre (541-347-7269) for the South Coast.