Chapman’s Rhododendron


Description and biology

Chapman’s rhododendron is an evergreen shrub that can reach 6.6 feet (2 meters) high. The bark on new shoots is reddish–brown. As the plant ages, the bark turns gray and starts to peel.

The rhododendron’s leaves are oval–shaped, measuring 1.2 to 2.6 inches (3 to 6.6 centimeters) in length. They are green on top, but reddish underneath because the surface is lined with flat red scales.

Tight clusters of flowers bloom in March and April. The flowers are often pink, but the color can vary in large populations. Each flower has five petals measuring 1.2 to 1.4 inches (3 to 3.6 centimeters) long. The petals spread out in a funnel shape and are slightly unequal in size (the lowest is the largest).

In the past, botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) believed the plant reproduced by spreading seeds. This does not seem to be the case now, however. Most Chapman’s rhododendrons seem to reproduce in the wild by resprouting from roots.

Habitat and current distribution

This species of rhododendron is found only in Florida. Three populations exist, the largest of which straddles Gadsden and Liberty Counties. This population covers 150 to 200 acres (60 to 80 hectares) and numbers around 500 individual plants. A population of several hundred plants is found in Gulf County. The last population, made up of fewer than 50 plants, exists in Clay County.

Chapman’s rhododendrons require a habitat that has good drainage and that will not flood. They prefer light shade and sandy soil that contains abundant organic matter. They are usually found inhabiting areas between dry pine–turkey oak vegetation and moist titi (tree with leathery leaves and fragrant flowers) bogs.

History and conservation measures

Much of this plants’ habitat has been destroyed by logging and by the clearing of areas to create pine plantations. Although Chapman’s rhododendron does well when other plants around it are cleared away, too much disturbance of its habitat can be destructive to the plant. Because the plant is also attractive, it has been collected in great numbers by nursery operators and amateur gardeners.

Much of the remaining populations of Chapman’s rhododendron are on private land. Enlisting the cooperation of landowners to preserve the plants’ habitat is one conservation effort currently underway. Additional measures include regulating logging and other forestry practices that would further destroy its habitat.

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