About R. lapponicum, and Taming Wild Plants


br>A. E. Porsild, Curator Emeritus of the National Herbarium of Canada in his book, "Rocky Mountain Wild Flowers" (National Museums of Canada 1979) states that Rhododendron lapponicum, the Lapland Rosebay, is always found on non-acid rocks. Do you suppose that failure to take this in to account explains, at least in part, why this plant doesn't take kindly to being cultivated? It is not even mentioned by Mansfield (T.C. Mansfield, "Alpines in Colour and Cultivation", Collins, London, 1942) , or Ingwersen ("Manual of Alpine Plants", Timber Press, Portland Oregon, 1986).

Peter Cox says of it ("The Smaller Rhododendrons", Timber Press Oregon, 1985, page 105) ... "The Arctic plants have been found almost impossible to keep in cultivation while those from Japan and probably nearby Korea and Siberia are comparatively easy to grow. We have one upright-growing lapponicum collected on the Great Slave Lake, Canada. Even this does not flourish and has yet to flower after several years. There are relic populations in outlying locations in Wisconsin, New York and on Mt. Washington, New Hampshire at 1550 m (5000ft). In Greenland it is generally much lower. Some success has been reported in cultivating these southern forms and a form from Labrador. Try sowing seed on to a peat block and establishing it in a trough. Circumpolar distribution, often growing over permafrost where the soil is sometimes alkaline, up to pH 8.5 and sometimes on limestone, serpentine and igneous rocks. Even in Canada it grows at elevations of 900-1800m (3,000 to 6000 ft)." Eds note: the words in bold font or underlined are my emphasis.

The Troms Botanical Garden, warmed by the Gulf Stream at 70 degrees northern latitude in Norway grows R. .lapponicum along with many other rhododendrons. It occurs wild in the vicinity but, they say, is almost impossible to grow below about 3000 feet. The latitude of Troms» is almost precisely the same as that of Tuktoyaktuk in Canada. I'm sure they don't have a botanical garden and grow rhodos in Tuk. but I suspect that lapponicum does grow wild not far away.. ("Wildflowers of the Yukon" John G. Trelawney, Gray's, Sidney, B.C., 1983). Wild, but not tamed.

Well, thank goodness, I say. It is nice to know that some living things do not bend to man's will. It is a good thing that in order to see and appreciate some plants, indeed, many plants in their glory, it is necessary to go to them, not to bring them to us. As a boy living in Yukon, I never saw R. lapponicum, although it was there. I was familiar with many plants that are not in cultivation. Forty years after my leaving., my wife, son and I returned for the first time. I went back again 18 years later. The plants that I knew were still there, remaining where they always were in their natural haunts, as they do still in my memory - a long time in a human life, and in a garden - but only an instant in that of the natural world. In 1989, I brought down some soil taken from a spot particularly rich in flowers. Many plants came up in this soil - none survives.. Only Mertensia paniculata rescued from a turned up furrow in a camp-ground, still flourishes and flowers, far from its home. A.M.