Rhododendron calophytum is a species of flowering plant in the family Ericaceae. This is also known as beautiful-face rhododendron, which is growing to some 15 m high, with a spread of 10 m. This magnificent evergreen tree rhododendron is no plant for a confined space. It needs to be grown on the edge of a copse or in a large garden, where its majestic beauty can be appreciated to the full.
The glory of Rhododendron calophytum is its leaves, their unfolding is a miracle of movement. Above last year’s foliage, each great leaf bud, emerging from an umbrella of the current season’s mature leaves, sheds its brown scales and pushes out a new shoot.
At first pink bracts enclose this; then it develops into a silver shuttlecock of suede-soft true leaves, from which the bracts fall back like ribbons from a newly opened gift. Gradually the new leaves unfold, eventually reaching a length of 15 in.
Rhododendron calophytum is the hardiest of the big-leaved rhododendrons and is safe in all but the coldest gardens. When grown from seeds it takes about ten years to flower, producing then, in March and April, clusters of up to 30 white, bell-shaped blooms, which are purple-blotched and sometimes flushed with pink.
This rhododendron can easily overpower other plants, so those chosen to associate with it should have striking foliage of their own. Behind the tree would be a good place to plant the blue-leaved spruce, Picea pungens glauca, while around are herbaceous plants ~ Peltiphyllum peltatum, which has wheel-like leaves, Rodgersia aesculifolia and Hoste sieboldiana ‘Elegans’, whose foliage color echoes that of the spruce. At the very front of the suggested grouping is the ostrich-feather fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, whose developing golden-green fronds repeat the shape of the rhododendron above. Therefore, Rhododendron calophytum is a true example of an evergreen tree for small gardens.