abc logo Naming and Describing New Rhododendron Varieties
Rhododendron ABC's #27

At one time, after I had written 26 Rhododendron ABC's, I thought I had just about covered all of the main points that a Rhododendron enthusiast might need to consider during the development and maturation of interest in this fascinating and extensive Genus. I find, however that I overlooked at least one important detail.

It was pointed out during the discussion on hybridization, that the goal is to produce something better than had been seen before. I stopped there as though the whole Rhododendron world would automatically know that something good had been produced! Such is not the case, and, in order to be sure that this new product of painstaking growth and development does become known and appreciated, it is absolutely essential that the new plant be fitted with a unique name and description.

Much has been written in the ARS Quarterly, and other places, about the proliferation of names. Some growers appear to believe that names can be given very freely and name plants right and left. They often name plants whose traits are only average, and are no better than hundreds of others. Others, seem to believe that a name should be rarely bestowed and then only to plants whose traits are truly unique and far, far above those of average garden plants.

Personally, I tend to side with the latter group and believe that too many plants are given names. There is, of course, no compelling reason why a person can't name any plant no matter what its traits, but I believe that it is reasonable to insist that the plant be described and evaluated very carefully, and found to have more than average garden traits. It is also reasonable to insist that a given name be registered in order to ensure that the name applies to one specific plant with known and described characteristics. The American Rhododendron Society has long recognized that names should be registered and has provided a means to do so.

So just how does one go about naming and registering? On page 47 of the ARS Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 1, Winter, 1997, a summary of the process is given by Jay W. Murray, the North American Registrar of Plant Names. A paragraph from this summary is a good place to start:

Questions concerning name registration, the availability of particular names, and requests for forms (no fee) should be directed to the Registrar, Jay W. Murray, 21 Squire Terrace, Colts Neck, NJ 07722 (908 946-8627).

As far as selecting a name, it is important to remember that certain rules (which are modified slightly from time to time) are maintained by The International Rhododendron Authority of the Royal Horticultural Society of the United Kingdom. This group is considered to be the final authority for the addition of names to the International Rhododendron Register. In order to make sure the selected name follows the rules, one should contact the ARS Registrar and see if the name is available. At the same time, forms can be requested as described above.

The registration forms are fairly self-explanatory and relatively easy to complete. The one item that seems to give the most trouble is the flower color description. It is essential that one has access to the RHS Colour Chart, first issued in 1966 (later reissued in the 1980's). The charts are now, unfortunately, quite expensive (nearly $100). 1 was lucky enough to obtain one of the 1966 charts when the cost was low-- In the neighborhood of $ 10. 00. The Portland Chapter has a set, as do several Chapter members, which can be borrowed if one is naming a few plants.

The use of the charts does require some care. Natural light is essential (diffuse light, not direct sunlight) and the matchings are then noted by comparing the fresh flower colors with those in the chart (color fans). The colors are then described by the proper chart color numbers. At first it may appear to be tough to make the match, but after some practice, a good match can be made.

Another thing to remember is that it is helpful to send a slide or photograph (preferably blooming) along with the completed form to the Registrar. If one is only registering, there is no fee. If an official certificate of registration is desired, a small fee is charged and should be sent with the form.

That's all there is to it. The rest is up to the plant person. Remember that registering the name does not imply anything about the plant quality. Registration is only about identification and serves to avoid the confusion that can result if several different plants are given the same name. It is up to each person's discretion as to which plants are named. It is to be hoped that each namer will be very selective, objective, and unbiased. I say unbiased because it is very easy to see unmerited quality in one's own creations.

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Dave Goheen