Rhododendron ‘Quakeress': A Striking Bi-Colored Beauty

The striking rhododendron 'Quakeress'
The striking rhododendron 'Quakeress'

The west shores of the pond are lined with striking bi-colored Rhododendrons in the spring.

Rhododendron ‘Quakeress’  is one of the lovely bi-colored Azaleas in Seattle’s Japanese Garden. Its flowers consist of two contrasting colors (pink and white) with striking -- and varied -- patterning. Located on the west side of the pond, it generally blooms in May. In warmer years, such as this one, it began blooming in April.

This beautiful Evergreen Azalea is one of 454 Glenn Dale Hybrids, which were developed in the 1930’s at the U.S. Arboretum Plant Introduction Station. In the years following, they were released throughout the U.S., notably to arboretums and botanic gardens, including our own Washington Park Arboretum. ‘Quakeress’ was created from complex crosses, and shares one parent with the ancient Satsuki Hybrids of Japan. The latter originated approximately 500 years ago.

The original Satsuki azaleas were naturally-occurring hybrids of Rhododendron indicum and Rhododendron tamurae. Usually compact & twiggy plants, they bloomed in late May or June, and many of them displayed interesting color patterns. As a result, a long Japanese tradition of breeding for multiple patterns on the same plant (including solids, stripes, flakes, lines, sectors and margins) was begun. Not particularly stable, these patterns would vary significantly from year to year – even on the same plant. After years of careful observation and breeding efforts, the Japanese developed a detailed system of classification – including more than 20 color pattern categories with evocative names. For example: Sokojiro (white throat); Tsumabeni (red fingernail); Hakeme shibori (brush variegation); Harusame shibori (spring rain variegation); and Fukiage shibori (fountain variegation).

The following quotation comes from Ito Ihei, a mid-seventeenth century authority on Azaleas: “When I stay at home to admire my azaleas, the bare room in which I live becomes, for a moment, a fairy castle. As I gaze at the blossoms, my head pillowed on my arm, I feel as if I am resting in a brocade bed, and so I have called this book A Brocade Pillow.”

These cherished Japanese flower patterns are embodied in our own Japanese Garden, in the U.S. bred ‘Quakeress’ and the later-blooming Japanese Satsukis, such as ‘Gosho-Zakura.’

Corinne Kennedy is a trained guide for Seattle Japanese Garden and a contributor to the garden's blog.