'Pink Pearl' and her sports do quite well in the South

carolinamaryFebruary 6, 2010

Hello Folks,

We lost a 35 year-old rhododendron due to a car driving into our yard last fall. I'm hoping to spread the word about the variety and perhaps to influence others to keep going the variety it sported from.

To see the a picture of what our 'Mother of Pearl' plant looked like five years ago, go here:


It was originally bought from Van Veen's nursery about 35 years ago and was supposed to be a sport of rhododendron 'Pink Pearl', a rhodie that already had done well in the heat of the South. (See pictures of 'Pink Pearl' in Ted Van Veen's "Rhododendrons in America" book, including one taken in Atlanta.)

Our plant was grown from a tiny thing when planted, but it bloomed well in our organically oriented yard in, I think, maybe two years after that, and never stopped blooming prolifically and dependably year after year. Those blooms were originally white. When it was about seven years old, a small amount of dirt, mostly leafy red clay, was added to its back side, in order to make up for some soil loss there, due to the steep slope on that side of its location. The following year's blooms and the blooms in every year after that were no longer straight white, but more of a shaded blush color with some depth (suggestion of green in its throat). So I think 'Pink Pearl' might be inclined to produce sports, and I think its 'Mother of Pearl' sport sported again with the soil addition. This particular Pearl was a very, very desirable plant, and looking back, if I'd thought enough about its uniqueness, I'd have gone to some trouble to try to get it reproduced and distributed to nurseries in order for everyone to eventually have an opportunity to enjoy it in their yards too.

The blooms were fragrant, not heavily on an individual basis, but enough so that if you got within ten feet of the plant during its blooming period, it smelled wonderful. The blooms themselves were cheerful and lasted on the plant extremely well, as well or better than any of the other rhododendrons we've ever had. The leaves were especially attractive and useful in a vase of other bloomers even when this plant wasn't itself in bloom.

We've lost plenty of rhododendrons to one thing or another, and especially due to the droughts in many recent years here in the southeast. We watered, but not enough. This was the only large rhododendron we didn't end up having to cut off dead limbs from with the drought damage; it was much more drought tolerant than any other rhododendron that we have. It was also healthy with never a worry that it might have something seriously wrong with it in our no-spray yard. It wasn't babied at all; it just had some cottonseed meal thrown its way once every year or two and some mulch added.

I'm posting now because I spent a huge amount of time trying to replace the plant, and investigated even for nurseries carrying 'Pink Pearl'. That plant is really hard to locate, at least on the internet. I think Van Veen's is and was likely the only source for its 'Mother of Pearl' sport. They lost their mother plant a few years back but managed to root a few cuttings, and I did get two of them.

Assuming 'Pink Pearl' shares many of the same characteristics as its sports, I'd hope that lots more people would locate it and try it in their yards and that many nurseries would start carrying it again. It would be a great loss if the variety died out due to people not knowing what a good plant it is! And when the Van Veen nursery gets many 'Mother of Pearl' plants going again, I'd highly recommend trying 'Mother of Pearl' for yourself.

The other reason I'm posting this is a really long shot, but...

I have a friend who does some propagating in his university greenhouse. I didn't think about calling him until maybe a week after the car destroyed our plant (ripped it entirely off its 5-inch diameter trunk), but he was willing to try to do some rooting. (Kathy Van Veen also offered, but with the delay in contacting her and then the delay in getting any cuttings across the country, I figured it would probably be too late for that to work.) Anyway, my university friend warned me that since we didn't think to take cuttings right away, it was very likely too late for success here too, but we did take cuttings and took them over to him. This will probably come to nothing. But in case we do end up with many cuttings rooting, I'd love to get some of them to some professional nurseries who'd want to themselves propagate it for eventual sale.

There's no profit angle here on my part; I'd get the rooted cuttings to the nurseries for free. I just would love to see the variety survive.

If you are a rhododendron nursery person or know someone who is, please list your/their nursery info here, and if this long shot works out, I'll contact you/them.

Best wishes,


Here is a link that might be useful:

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you should contact tom dodd at the family nursery. they breed and sell (wholesale) the confederate series of native azaleas (hybrids with exbury) and might be interested in a rhododendron like 'pink pearl' that performs well in our summer heat. one link is posted below. their other one is here: http://www.tomdodd.com/
when i first read your post, i was thinking you meant 'pink pearl' azalea, which is one of my favorites. i have several of them. it's an old cultivar and is fairly easily found around here.

Here is a link that might be useful: dodd natives

    Bookmark   March 19, 2010 at 10:13AM
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Hi Jeff,

Your photos are lovely, lovely. We do have some pink pearl azaleas here too. If you look at the deepest portion of your shot of the whole plant, that is roughly the color I remember for our blooms, but perhaps they do fade a bit as they age. One of what was labeled as a 'Pink Pearl' definitely isn't that, though I've not taken the time to try to identify what it might be. (One of the great problems in buying plants at a place like Lowe's; I wish we'd never done that--though the 'not Pink Pearl' azalea looks terrific too.)

Thanks very much for the Dodd information. They look like people after my own heart; what a wonderful business they are in. I'll contact them if I do wind up with any Mother of Pearl plants that rooted. (I've heard nothing back on that yet and don't expect to hear anything positive, if it's going to be positive, until later.)

Thanks for posting, Jeff!

Best wishes,

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 7:01PM
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