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Azalea indica

Azalea japonica

 Rhododendron vireya

 Deciduous azalea

Rhododendron

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  rhododendron vireya

 

Rhododendron vireya

 

VARIETIES

HISTORY

DISTRIBUTION

DESCRIPTION

 

Varieties

 

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History

The first vireyas with cherry red flowers (R. malayanum) were brought back to England in 1823 by Dr William Jack of the East India Company. Shortly afterwards, plants of R. jasminiflorum with exotic white flowers with pink centres were sent from Malacca to Vietch & Sons in Exeter by the collector Thomas Lobb; they flowered for the first time in England in 1849.

An ascent of Mount Kinabalu (4,101 m) in Borneo by Hugh Low (a representative of the British Government) also yielded many new varieties.

Between the world wars, these exotic plants were almost entirely ignored for several decades, due to a shortage of coal; orchids suffered a similar fate at that time. Vireyas disappeared from our part of the world for almost 80 years, probably because, being rhododendrons, they were linked with the popular hardy garden rhododendrons, although the much more delicate exotic vireyas in no way matched the description of garden rhododendrons.

 

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Distribution

With around 300 species, Vireya rhododendrons form the largest part of the genus Rhododendron; for a long time they were described as Malaysian Rhododendrons, but we now know that their distribution extends from the Malaysian archipelago to the Solomon Islands and from Taiwan to Queensland, Australia.

 

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Description

Because all vireyas have scales on their leaves (sometimes they feel like sandpaper), they are classified as lepidote rhododendrons.

An exceptional feature of the vireyas is the shape of the seed, which has a tail on both sides; according to botanists, this enables the seed to be better dispersed by the wind, something which is very useful for the vireyas, given that many species are epiphytic, living on tree trunks. It is interesting to remember that they are not affected by restrictions on their root system.

Something which appealed to me about the vireyas is the fact that many varieties flower repeatedly throughout the year, a characteristic that is highly unusual within the genus Rhododendron.

Because of their natural area of origin, the equatorial region, where there are no seasons, only a wet and a dry season, their flowering period is virtually unpredictable.

Experience has taught us that many species bloom twice a year, while some, such as R. luraluense, only bloom once a year (December-January)

Vireyas are found from sea level to a height of more than 4000 m. This has led to large differences in their shape and characteristics, from large shrubs of up to 8 m in height to the smallest dwarf species such as Rh. caespitosum, which is no more than 20 cm in diameter and only a few cm high.