- Rhododendron ponticum
What’s the problem?
- A killer of the countryside.
- Outcompetes native plants and destroys habitats.
- Invasive, spreading quickly across unmanaged landscapes.
- Loss of native wildlife.
- Rapidity of spread.
- Difficult to kill.
- Congregates in inaccessible areas making control challenging.
- Large root system.
- Difficult to eradicate due to its large root system and extensive seed bank – may take years.
- Unpalatable to herbivores.
What are the legal implications?
- There are currently no legal obligations to deal with this species
Rhododendron ponticum is a large evergreen shrub or small tree introduced to Britain in the 18th century. It is a very attractive dark green leaved shrub with showy trusses of flowers. In its native habit, it grows as an understory plant in mixed forest or as a dwarfed form above the snowline. The plant is now found as a native in two distinct zones: one extremely extensive – Eastern Europe (SE Bulgaria and NW Turkey) eastwards to beyond the Black Sea to Transcaucasia, and south to North Anatolia (hence its specific epithet ponticum, from Pontos); and a second, smaller area – the Iberian peninsula. These two zones are the surviving parts of a much larger range in western Eurasia in the Tertiary period; the fossil record shows it to have existed in Central Europe and as far north as Ireland even more recently, in one of the interglacial periods. Some authorities see the Iberian population as a distinct subspecies, subsp. baeticum, distinguished from the species by invariably having a densely short-hairy stem to the inflorescence.
Often viewed now as an escaped garden ornamental, it was also in earlier periods extensively planted as game covert and was also used as the rootstock onto which many later Rhododendron hybrids were grafted. All of these means of introduction into the wild mean that it has taken hold in many areas of Britain, and particularly forms expansive thickets in the milder areas. It has also hybridised with several other species, for example R. maximum and R. catawbiense.