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Rhododendron ferrugineum - Alpine rose, rusty leaved alprose


The Alpine rose, which grows (as the common name suggests) on the slopes of the Alps, has been the source of the common name of the genus Rhododendron in many languages, including Finnish. It has nothing to do with the rose family, belonging instead to the family Ericaceae, the heaths or heathers.

The small-leaved Alpine rose grows on the upper slopes of the Alps above and below the tree line, climbing higher than any other woody-stemmed species. It is a pioneer species, invading large areas of Alpine meadows and covering them in a sea of pink blossom in June-July.

Reaching heights of about 1 metre, the shrub is extremely poisonous to cattle, which ignore it.

In its native habitat Alpine rose is covered through the winter by deep snow so hasn’t needed to develop extreme hardiness. This makes it difficult to grow in areas where the snow cover is less reliable. Also hot summers can cause problems. Nevertheless it was the first rhododendron species to be used in gardens in Europe. It is known to have been grown in England at least as early as 1752, the cool temperate climate there suiting it perfectly.

At Mustila there are specimens of Alpine rose of a variety of ages which have all proved hardy under winter snow. They open their small pink flowers rather late, usually not till the end of June.