The wild rhododendrons of Mount Elphinstone


Submitted /
May 22, 2014 12:17 PM

Ron Knight hosted the final rhododendron festival at Caron Gardens on May 17 with a garden tour, free seminars and the opportunity to purchase award-winning rhododendrons. Knight will present a slideshow on the native rhododendrons that grow on Mount Elphinstone, May 26 at the Seaside Centre.

Anyone who has taken a late spring trip through Manning Park has probably noticed the beautiful pink-flowering shrubs lining Highway 1.

These magnificent plants are the Pacific rhododendron, R. macrophyllum.

Members of this species are also found in the wild in Oregon and Washington, as well as at Nanaimo and Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. However, right here on the Sunshine Coast, on Mount Elphinstone, we likely have the most northerly stand of macropyllums in the Pacific Northwest.

Rhododendron macrophyllum is the tallest of B.C.’s native rhododendrons. It has large, glossy-green leaves and groups of twenty or more pink flowers appear at the ends of branches.

Ron Knight, who owns Caron Gardens in Pender Harbour, will present a slideshow presentation entitled The Wild Rhododendrons of Mount Elphinstone to the Sechelt Garden Club at the Seaside Centre on May 26 at 7:30 p.m. Visitors are welcome.

Knight first learned that the Pacific rhododendron grew wild on the Sunshine Coast from reading an article by a geneticist, Dr. Ben Hall, in the winter 2006 issue of the American Rhododendron Society Journal. Hall had visited Mount Elphinstone with local environmentalists and members of the Vancouver Rhododendron Society, and had collected leaf and flower bud samples. He used these tissue samples to study the DNA of the rhododendrons and found that the Mount Elphinstone population was a distinct genetic variation of the species that preferred to live near salt water.

Following a trip into the area, Knight contacted Brian Smart, a forester who had spearheaded the development of the Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) plan. The SCCF board has provided signage in the Mount Elphinstone grove and also arranged for the planting of macrophyllum seedlings in Hidden Grove, in an attempt to establish a satellite population. Other seedlings have been planted at the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden and should put out their first blooms in two or three years.

The wild rhododendrons of Mount Elphinstone are a local treasure. We can all be proud of the efforts taken by the SCCF board and the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden Society to protect these rare, native plants.

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