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Featured Plant

Rhododendron macabeanum G. Watt ex Balf. f.


Scientific Name: Rhododendron macabeanum G. Watt ex Balf. f.


Family: Ericaceae

Plant Type: Evergreen shrub

Environment: Woodlands

Bloom: Light to deep yellow bell-shaped flowers with purple blotches in large clusters

Uses: A nice large addition to a woodland garden



Rhododendron macabeanum G. Watt ex Balf. f.

Ring the bell (shaped flower that is)! The magnificent McCabe’s Rhododendron (Rhododendron macabeanum G. Watt ex Balf. f.) is in flower in the Rhododendron Garden!

Who is McCabe and why is this his rhododendron you might ask? The name remembers Robert Blair McCabe, the once Deputy Commissioner of Manipur, India, who organized the 1882 collecting trip during which the species was first described by the Scottish botanist George Watt. Despite the species’ discovery in the nineteenth century, it was not introduced to Western cultivation until 1927.

In its native range in Northeastern India, this rhodie can be found growing up to 50 feet tall at altitudes of 8,000-9,000 ft. Where it naturally occurs it is relatively common, however, it is only found on two mountains in this region. The species is also under threat from logging and forest loss, making the cultivation of this species here at SFBG and at other gardens all the more critical to preserving global biodiversity.

Despite current threats, R. macabeanum thrives in cultivation, growing about 5 feet in 10 years. McCabe’s rhododendron is known for its bell shaped yellow flowers that grow in large, tight clusters. In the Bay Area these blooms will typically spring to life in March and April. The evergreen leaves are also a highlight, with their glossy green color, which can grow up to almost 1 ft. Don’t forget to take a look at the underside of the leaves which can be greyish white and fairly soft to the touch. Another striking characteristic is the species’ salmon pink new shoots.

McCabe’s rhododendron does well in partial shade, though will grow into a wider, shrub-like habit when grown in a more open location. When siting this plant, it is best to choose a place in the garden well protected from strong or persistent winds in order to protect the leaves. Reflective of its native habitat Rhododendron macabeanum will do well in woodland areas.  R. macabeanum grows best in moist, well-drained, slightly acid soils.

IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Tory Stewart, Photos by Ryan Guillou & Tory Stewart


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