This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage.
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page

Brand's new Raise the Roof rhododendrons
sure to be champions
February 1, 1999

From the first tip off to the last buzzer beater, UConn basketball fans raise the roof of Gampel Pavilion with their Huskymania, in hopes of taking part in March Madness hoopla.

Across campus, Mark Brand, associate professor of plant science, has introduced a new team of large-leaf rhododendrons, "Huskymania," "Tip Off," "Buzzer Beater," "March Madness," "Hoopla" and "Slam Dunk." These six, new, colorful players in the rhododendron arena are part of his "Raise the Roof" series.

As with athletic coaching, patience is needed in plant breeding. The experiments that led to these new plants started about 30 years ago under the coaching of Gustav Mehlquist, now a professor emeritus. He would take two rhododendrons with different desirable traits and cross them to get both traits in one plant. Thousands of such combinations were grown, evaluated, refined and winnowed. Brand has continued the work and now has a plant collection that he calls, "the best of the best."

For example, a light yellow rhododendron that will withstand Connecticut winters like "Buzzer Beater" has not previously existed. This plant performs well without special handling and grows vigorously in Connecticut's climate. It is hardy in climate zones five and six, including New England.

"Hoopla" has a unique color combination of pink with a yellow throat. It, too, is vigorous and cold hardy.

Color-conscious Husky fans will be drawn to "Huskymania." "I gave it that name because the flower color is a bluish-purple," said Brand. "Huskymania" is more blue or purple than the other rhododendrons currently available. It is extremely cold-hardy, as well."

"March Madness" and "Tip Off" have the same father, a species called Rhododendron calophytum that is large, tree-like and blooms early, but lacks cold-hardiness. To capture the strengths of this species and overcome its weakness, cold-hardy purple and white rhododendrons were used as mother plants. Both "March Madness" and "Tip Off" bloom two to three weeks before other large-leaf rhododendrons, usually at the end of April or the beginning of May in Connecticut landscapes.

In the mature state, the plants have a mushroom-shaped habit and tropical looking leaves like their father. "March Madness" is rose-colored, with a small red blotch (flare), and "Tip Off" is white with a large red blotch in its upper throat.

Brand thinks "Slam Dunk" may be the first plant of the "Raise the Roof" series to become widely available, because it is easy to grow and will "fit in well with commercial production." Its main attraction for the home gardener is its frilly wine/burgundy flower with a black blotch.

All six rhododendrons are being considered by commercial growers for wholesale production and will take three to five years to appear in local garden centers. Brand says home gardeners should ask for them by their Husky names.

And, he adds, planting the colorful "Raise the Roof" series at home could be like having the excitement of Gampel Pavilion in the yard, season after season.

Patsy W. Evans