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For the Love of Rhododendron

For the Love of Rhododendron

By ARS NextGen
Have you ever loved someone so much that you followed them around and talked endlessly about them to all your friends and family? That’s how much we love Rhododendron, a quirky and amazing genus of flowering plants that has a deep human history and an incredible ecological legacy. Follow along on our adventures as we learn about the remarkable things that folks all around the world have done, For the Love of Rhododendron.

This podcast is a production of The American Rhododendron Society Next Generation Program. Learn more at
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As soon as the sunrays hit

For the Love of Rhododendron

As soon as the sunrays hit
In this episode Juliana and Ryan meet Dr. Shweta Basnett, who shares stories from her PhD work on the pollination biology of Rhododendron in Sikkim Himalaya. We learn how she left her bed well-before dawn to trek up a mountainside and survey many different Rhododendron species and their pollinators, including sunbirds who start drinking the nectar as soon as the sunrays hit the ground, and how the difficult task of climbing a mountain day after day led to stunning views and a chance to expand from local to global Rhododendron studies as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland. Thus, illustrating the words of author William Arthur Ward, “Opportunities are like sunrises, if you wait too long, you’ll miss them.”
June 02, 2022
We named the trees
In this episode Christina and Connor tell the story of Leslie Hancock, a pioneer in Canadian Rhododendron breeding and horticulture and founder of the Hancock Woodlands in Mississauga, Ontario Canada. We hear from Woodlands Horticulturalist Stacey Sylvestri about how the next generation is carrying on Hancock’s botanical legacy and commitment to community outreach. We also meet Hancock’s grand-daughter Carol, who shares memories of her childhood growing up in a plant nursery, where life was just a bit different. The towering oaks and pines, and multi-colored Rhododendrons of the Woodland Nursery provided plenty of material for a child's imagination, and the garden developed such a personality of its own that they even named the trees, including four iconic pine trees that still stand today as the hallmark of Hancock Woodlands, embodying the words of John Muir, “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”
April 07, 2022
Expect blooms anytime
In this episode we meet Don Graham, a retired emergency medicine doctor, a long-time member of the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, and a Rhododendron gardener extra-ordinaire. We find out how he successfully transitioned his love of Rhododendron from a large-scale outdoor rock garden to a small-but-mighty indoor garden prominently featuring tropical epiphytic Rhododendron species known as Vireyas. Don shares techniques he’s used to transform his second-floor condominium and balcony into a botanical wonderland so spectacular that passersby are known to shout their praise up from below, and we learn that the best thing about growing a Vireya garden in your house is that you can expect blooms anytime. Recalling the words of biographer and historian Jenny Uglow, “We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.”
March 03, 2022
What keeps me up at night
In this episode we meet our intrepid podcast narrator, that’s right you get to meet me, Dr. Juliana Medeiros. I got together with my fellow podcast hosts Connor and Christina to discuss how genus Rhododendron sparked a fire in my collector’s heart and how it makes an ideal study system for all kinds of biological research, I present my theory that leaves are indeed the coolest things in the universe, and we learn that unanswered questions about Rhododendron are what keep me up at night. For like Anne Brontë, “I love the silent hour of night, for blissful dreams may then arise, revealing to my charmed sight, what may not bless my waking eyes.”
February 05, 2022
Shake the world gently
In this episode we meet Mike Stewart, President of the Van Veen Heritage Garden in Portland Oregon. We learn how this newly formed non-profit organization is carrying on the extraordinary legacy of the VanVeen family, three generations of horticultural pioneers who dedicated themselves to learning about Rhododendrons, devising new propagation techniques, and generously sharing their plants and their knowledge. In doing so, they turned their little corner of Portland into a veritable sanctuary of Rhododendrons and built a huge community of friends, evoking the wisdom of Mahatma Ghandi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
January 01, 2022
Finding new mountains
In this episode we meet Steve Hootman, Executive Director and Curator of the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden, located in Federal Way, Washington. We get a glimpse into the history of this stunning wild garden, we learn how observing Rhododendron in nature provides insights into their cultivation, and we discover that consuming plant knowledge and finding new mountains is an actual career path. Much like John Muir described in a letter to his sister Sarah in 1873, “The mountains are calling, and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.”
December 03, 2021
The pitch of their wingbeats
In today’s episode we meet Dr. Robbie Hart, a researcher at the William L. Brown Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden. We learn how hillsides filled with Rhododendron flowers have informed the everyday lives of people on Mt. Yulong in South China, how this traditional ecological knowledge is preserved in the local languages of Yunnan, and how even listening to a tiny bee buzzing around a flower can provide insight on the importance of plants and the environment for the flourishing of humankind. Echoing the words of author Nancy Farmer, “Look around you...Feel the wind, smell the air. Listen to the birds and watch the sky. Tell me what's happening in the wide world.”
November 14, 2021
You can add your own twist
In this episode we meet Rhododendron hybridizer and college professor, Paul Chafe, we learn how a memorable brush with giant Rhododendrons led him to hybridizing, how he's adding his own twist on breeding cold-hardy Rhododendron by chasing a dream of tree-like, big-leaf plants that don't look like they should survive in the frigid cold of continental Canada.  Representing the next generation of Rhododendron breeders, Paul is expanding the palate of cold-hardy forms with the same modernistic approach embodied by author Henry James, who once quipped "A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it."
October 01, 2021
Where kindred spirits convene
In this episode we meet some of the organizers and speakers from the upcoming American Rhododendron Society Fall Convention, they share their fascinating Rhododendron origin stories, the important work they are currently doing in Rhododendron, and give a tantalizing preview of the virtual convention line-up. Though our friends and families may tire of hearing about Rhododendron, as Lucy Maud Montgomery reminds us in Anne of Green Gables: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” More info and registration for American Rhododendron Society Fall Convention here: 
August 30, 2021
A treasure-trove of experiences
In this episode we learn about Ryan Fuller’s research on Rhododendron evolution in the Hengduan Mountains of China, how this magical place spawned Ryan’s polyploidy problems, how the people in Yunnan and the Rhododendrons themselves welcomed him, and how the rather practical goal of collecting plant samples led him to a goldmine of adventures worthy of the most ambitious bucket-list. Just as told by Paulo Coelho in the “The Alchemist”, when you are about to climb yet another dune, that is the moment when your heart whispers, "Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That's where I am, and that’s where your treasure is.”
August 02, 2021
The genome was the puzzle
In this episode, Ryan and Juliana meet with Dr. Valerie Soza to learn about the Rhododendron williamsianum genome sequencing project, how a visionary researcher led a huge team of scientists on an epic adventure to tackle a 30,000-piece puzzle that took 10 years and a whole lot of persistence to complete. Reflecting on the words of the immortal Smokey Robinson, “Love's a puzzle, love's a puzzle, Confusing as can be, But work it out and you'll discover, The beauty of love's mystery.”
June 25, 2021
There wasn't a map
In this episode, we learn about the podcast production team, how random twists and turns in the road of life led them to discover their love of Rhododendron, and their hopes for how this podcast can inspire and support others embarking on their own journey into the vast and uncharted territory that is genus Rhododendron. For, as DH Lawrence once wrote: “Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law, and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration.”
June 01, 2021