Saturday, 9 May 2009

Rhododendron hodgsonii Hook.f.

Rhododendron hodgsonii Hook.f. -- Rhod. Sikkim-Himal. t. 15.
The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya 2: , pl. 15. 1851. Annotation: as "hodgsoni"
This, and the Abies Webbiana, I have always regarded as the characteristic tree and shrub (or underwood) at the elevation of 10 to 12,000 feet in all the valleys of Sikkim. R. Hodgsoni, in this respect, ranks with the R. arboreum and Campbelliae, being typical of a loftier zone of Rhododendrons, succeeded by the arctic one of R. anthopogon, R. setosum, R. elaeagnoides, and, finally, far above the ordinary limit of phenogamic vegetation, by R. nivale, which is found at an elevation of 18,000 feet above the level of the sea. Nowhere can the traveller wander, in the limits assigned to the present species, without having his attention arrested by its magnificent foliage, larger than that of R. Falconeri, and remarkable for its brilliant deep green hue. In summer time leaves are broad, and spreading all round the plant; in winter rolled up, shrivelled, and pendulous from the tips of tlebranches. It is alike found at the bottom of the valleys, on the rocky spurs or slopes and ridges of the hills, in open places, or in the gloomy Pine-groves, often forming an impenetrable scrub, through which the explorer in vain seeks to force his way. Nor is this a thicket merely of twigs and foliage, that will fall under the knife or cutlass, but of thickset limbs and stout trunks, only to be severed with difficulty, on account of the toughness and unyielding nature of the wood.The scentless blossoms expand late in April, and in May and June, but are not very copiously produced in comparison with the majority of its congeners.
Of the wood, cups, spoons, and ladles are made by the Bhoteas, and universally the little "Yak" saddle, by means of which the pack-loads are slung on the back of that animal. Easily worked, and not apt to split, it is admirably adapted for use in the parched and arid climate of Thibet. Nor is the foliage without its allotted use. The leaves are employed as platters, and serve for lining baskets for conveying the mashed pulp of Arisama root (a kind of Colocass); and the accustomed present of butter or curd is always made enclosed in this glossy foliage. Such are the characteristics of this Rhododendron, which I desire to dedicate to my excellent friend and generous host, B. H. Hodgson, Esq., of Darjeeling, formerly the Hon. East India Company's Resident at the Court of Nepal; a gentleman whose researches in the physical geography, the natural history, especially the zoology, the ethnology, the literature of the people, &c. &c., of Eastern Himalaya, are beyond all praise.

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