Root Beer-Fragranced Rhody?

TessieQ(8A)December 1, 2012

Hello everyone! I'm new to this website and am delighted to have found it.

I hope someone here will be able to point me in the right direction to find a rhody a relative had when I was a kid (lo, these many, MANY years ago).

The Puget Sound region of Western Washington is where this rhody grew.

The plant itself was huge...at least five or six feet tall (especially huge to the tiny child I was)...and had big white blooms with purplish spots in the interior. The best thing about this rhody, though, was it smelled like root beer!

I'm serious. I would linger in the back yard with my little face buried in the blossoms just to inhale that wonderful fragrance.

Everyone I've ever told this story to has looked at me as if I were nuts. But such a strong memory CAN'T be wrong!

So please...does ANYone here know the type of rhody I'm describing and...most importantly...where I can find one to buy today?

Oh...I (will soon) live in Zone 8a in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, so I do hope it will grow here.

Thanks so much for all your help!

Best...

Tess

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

White rhododendrons seem to often have the heaviest scent, which often has an aroma akin to root beer. Here are a few varieties that have a root beer scent:

The Dexter rhododendron "Spectacular" has a root beer scent:

The West Coast hybrid rhododendron 'Award' has the fragrance of root beer:

Rhododendron species calophytum sometimes has a root beer scent:

Root beer comes from the roots of the Sassafras tree, Sassafras albidum. Since these oils contain safrole, a volatile oil, which causes liver tumors, the flavoring for root beer is artificial today.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fragrant Rhododendrons

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:06AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Interesting. Rhodyman, have you ever noticed rhodies smelling different depending on the garden, or the particular year? My 'Van Nes Sensation' seems to be good some years, less noticeable others.
Even stranger, the 'Babylon' at Rarefind struck me as having a unmistakable murine (live mouse like) note to the odor. Sweet, but with a strange muskiness. Some people may not know this smell, but if you've ever been in a research facility that uses mice or old barn infested with them, you would. Quite unforgettable. However it was much less noticeable in mine. Not that I mind!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 10:54AM
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TessieQ(8A)

THAT'S IT!!!! "Rhododendron species calophytum sometimes has a root beer scent"

Thanks SO much, Rhodyman! Now I just have to FIND one!

And thanks for not thinking I was nuts! You, too, David!

*Snoopy dance*

Best...

Tess

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:20PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Scents can be some of the most powerful invokers of memory. I'm glad the forum was able to help you out. Of course the plant will do well in an appropriate spot in the Willamette valley; Greer or the Rhododendron Species Foundation have them somewhat regularly, and it sometimes pops up on the lists of other PNW nurseries as well like Colvos Creek.

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Mon, Dec 3, 12 at 17:54

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 5:53PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

DavidRT, I get spring allergies, so I don't go around smelling flowers. I visit lots of gardens and don't think that flowers bother me very often. Trees early and grasses later are more often the culprits, but I still tend to avoid sources of scents. However I appreciate that many people like fragrant plants and I have a web page identifying the most fragrant azaleas and rhododendrons. On this website I have a quote by Harold Greer:

"keep in mind that fragrance is an illusive attribute. Each of us has a unique perception of fragrance that may even change as our senses sharpen or diminish. Complicating this sense is the fact that plants often only give off their scent at certain times in both their blooming cycle, time of day, or even the temperature."

Here is a link that might be useful: Fragrant Rhododendrons and Azaleas

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:11AM
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