Purple Passion

mainegrower(Z5b ME)March 5, 2010

I'm curious about others' experience with Purple Passion rhododendron. This variety has been pretty heavily promoted and touted as hardy to -20. It does have good purple flowers, but I've found it to be a variety that suffers greatly in the winter, even an exceptionally mild one(for Maine) like 2009-2010. It's not killed outright, but there's lots of branch dieback. Right now, my 2 Purple Passions, both of which are sited in protected areas look worse than any other varieties. How does it do for you?

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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

It's a little bizarre to respond to one's own OP, but a couple of things have prompted me to do so. First, Purple Passion is once again featured at several of the big box stores looking irresistably green, bud-laden, and healthy. This past week the subject of PP came up in conversation with one of New England's largest growers of rhododendrons. His experience with PP has been exactly the same as mine. The plant may technically be alive in the spring, but it looks so bad no one would want it in his/her garden. He has ceased growing it or offering it for sale.

Every once in a while a rhododendron variety may be promoted by(presumably)a wholesale grower who has found it easy to propagate and good pot grower while it is not a good garden plant at all. (Just a few years ago nearly every New England nursery had pot after pot of Blue Baron with labels stating Z5 hardiness when it's barely hardy in Z6). So, if you're tempted by Purple Passion, I'd advise not buying it.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 5:44AM
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Than you, mainegrower, for your two postings re Purple Passion rhododendron. I live in New Brunswick, have about 500 rhodos and azaleas, but just added two Purple Passions in the spring of 2011. As a result of your experience I am going to protect both plants well for at least two or three winters.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 4:02PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

Good luck, kamies. I hope protection helps although it did not for me.

I would also be interested, and I'm sure others would be as well, in hearing from you about the varieties you're successfully growing in a difficult Z5a climate.

BTW, two other rhododendrons which struggle here despite being rated as hardy to -15 are 'Minnetonka' and 'Holden'
Both set lots of big fat buds and look fine in the spring, but the majority of buds suffer from 70-80% winter kill despite deep snow cover and/or mild temperatures. Other growers nearby find the same thing. I'd be very interested in your experience with these two if you grow them.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 5:50AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Hi Mainegrower,

I have no personal experience with Purple Passion. We are in zone 6 and it seems to perform OK here for others.

Here is what Rarefind Nursery in New Jersey says about it:

'Purple Splendour' X 'Catalgla'

Description: A newer introduction from cold Johnstown, PA, where winter temperatures regularly reach �20�F. This outstanding variety has trusses with a white flare on the upper lobe. Leaves are deep green. The habit is vase-shaped.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 9:47AM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)


Even after Z6 winters here with temperatures staying above 0 or only very slightly below, Purple Passion has looked awful in the spring despite protection. My experience and that of other people.

I believe this variety was an intoduction of the Conrad Pyle company, now, I believe out of business. It is possible that defective tissue cultured plants of this variety flooded the market while the real thing is a quite different plant, but PP has certainly been a failure in northern New England even though several nurseries still seem to carry it.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 5:38AM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

Some further information about Purple Passion:

There seems to at least three different rhododendrons with this name.

The one referred to in the Rarefind description is a Blough hybrid patented by the Conrad Pyle company. Of it, Peter Cox says it does not do well in the Northeast.

Cox also goes on to mention a hybrid by the same name created by Weldon Delp which he says is hardier.

Briggs Nursery lists 'Purple Passion' as a seedling of 'Purple Splendour". Seedlings cannot be patented, sothis pp is clearly not the same as the first one.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 11:36AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

I know of 2 Purple Passions:

1) Robert L. Blough and Margaret A. Blough patented a Purple Passion in 1997 and assigned the patent to The Conard-Pyle Company. The Bloughs are from Johnstown, PA, and their plant is a seedling of Purple Splendour. This is the plant that Rarefind has. Since this is a patented plant, its distribution is rather limited. It is said to be hardy to Zone 5. Ten-year-old plants withstood winter temperatures of -23F. This plant is one registered as "Purple Passion".

2) "Delp's Purple Passion" is from Weldon E. Delp in Harrisville, PA. It is the result of selfing Rcv. Evesterianum and then selfing that result.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 5:59PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

A very confusing state of affairs. Rarefind, Briggs and Greer all last Purple Passion with the same patent number. Briggs, however, assigns it Z6 hardiness and says it's a Purple Splendour seedling. Rarefind says it's Purple Splendour x Catalga hybrid hardy to -20. Greer says the parentage is unknown and it's hardy to -25.

It would be very unlikely that a Purple Splendour seedling would be hardy even in Z6 and -25 would be a huge stretch even with Catalga as a parent.

Whatever the case it has not proved to be adapted to New England. They look great in the pots - and the big box stores were full of them 2 or 3 years ago - but come spring they look terrible although technically still alive.They then struggle all summer to replace the leaves they lost in the previous winter and do not set buds. I think it is possible that many (all?) of the PP's sold around here were the result of tissue culture problems and that the real PP is a much better plant, but the Purple Splendour parentage suggests that the quotes of below zero hardiness are just plain wrong.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 5:47AM
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