Threatened plants of the world

Red List status: NOT LISTED

Even if you know your rhododendrons I bet you’d never guess this was one. The thin leaves are quite unlike most rhododendrons. This species is one of many rhododendrons that have evolved to grow in the very damp conditions of high altitude tropical cloud forest found on mountains in Southeast Asia. They are known as vireyas and here we have the largest collection of this specialised group of rhododendrons anywhere in the world.

Imagine a forest of gnarled trees covered in moss and other plants and shrouded in mist for much of the time and you have a picture of the eerie environment of the vireyas. It’s beautiful too, and when the sun does shine the diversity of plants perched on every branch and trunk is breathtaking. Some of the smaller vireyas have adopted this high-rise lifestyle and compete for space with colourful orchids and a profusion of mosses and ferns. As cloud forest trees are often of small stature you can appreciate the incredible hanging gardens of the tree canopy whilst still having your feet firmly on the ground!

The threat to Rhododendron taxifolium is a sadly familiar story of habitat loss, and exactly how threatened it is has yet to be properly assessed. However, as it is only known to grow on a few hills in the Philippines Rhododendron taxifolium is very vulnerable to anything that that has an impact on its habitat. The plant you are looking at was collected in the early 1990’s from intact cloud forest. Today those forests have all but gone. Although we cannot be certain, it seems likely that Rhododendron taxifolium is extinct in the wild and this plant is one of the very few surviving in cultivation. Due to the size of our vireya collection the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is at the forefront of both research and conservation of these beautiful plants.