Rhododendron sp.




Big Softy, Rio Rita and Aravir


Hot colours, soft colours, sometimes scented but always tropical, the Vireyas! This group of Rhododendrons are often called the Tropical Rhododendrons as they come mostly from SE Asia, western Malaysia and New Guinea but as they come from high altitude areas they grow well in our climate. One difference compared to the hardy rhododendrons is that they have repeat flowering with some cultivars flowering up to five times a year which is great for the tropical scene.

Vireyas are easy to grow; the most important thing is to have perfect drainage. If you have heavier soils, raise the planting bed or plant in pots or hanging baskets, using a good free draining potting mix. They appreciate being well watered as long as the drainage is perfect and will stand droughts amazingly well once they are established. Growing in full sun gives more compact plants but I like them also in light shade as you get a leggier plant giving splashes of colour amongst the other plants.

One of my favourites is a huge flowered one called Big Softy, a cultivar bred by Oz Blumhardt  at Maungatapere, Whangarei. The colour is a very soft blush pink with rose markings at the base of the petals merging in the throat to very pale green. The scent is delicious. Flowers in the spring can have a touch of green through the colour. Flowers are in big clusters of eight florets. The plant has big leaves for a vireya and grows in a compact form, very suitable for pot culture or in the garden. I get four or five flowerings a year from this cultivar. Big Softy has a sister from the same cross called Rio Rita and as might be guessed is a very flamboyant colour also with great scent and another called Rangitoto Rose, also scented. A wonderful white is called Aravir which has smaller flowers with pink stamens and also a delicious scent.