A 100-year-old Rhododendron and the Woman Who Grew Up Watching the Plant Grow

100 year old rhododendron

No one had heard of the Canadian town of Ladysmith, British Columbia until this bush placed it on the map. A giant rhododendron spanning 25ft (7.6m) by 30ft blooms beautiful pink blossoms every spring — about over 4,000 blossoms, in fact. The bush (rhododendrons are bushes, not trees as some people erroneously assume) is almost 125 years old. It has become such an appreciated botanical wonder online and by in-person visitors, that it has been given its own name: Lady Cynthia. 

The Over 100-Year-Old Rhododendron 

Former Ladysmith councilor and local historian Rob Johnson, 73, was wowed by the bush’s beauty and convinced the town’s Chamber of Commerce to promote Lady Cynthia as an attraction for Ladysmith visitors. “Let’s take pride in what we’ve got,” he said. 

The Island Highway is just outside the town and there hasn’t been many reasons for motorists to turn into Ladysmith until Lady Cynthia and the magnificent pink blossoms captured the world’s attention. 

Ladysmith has been praised and is considered to be one of Canada’s top-10 prettiest communities. This bush became a symbol of the town’s beauty. 

Johnson was inspired to promote the bush when he found how much attention it was receiving online.  

“It’s the size of a small house and is a vibrant pink color,” said Mr. Johnson. He adds that during the rest of the year, without the blossoms, it is “just a nice, big, green shrub.” [1] 

With its beautiful thick branches, there’s no wonder Lady Cynthia has been mistaken so many times for a tree. 

Read: Ancient tree with record of Earth’s magnetic field reversal in its rings discovered

The History of Lady Cynthia 

The locals of Ladysmith, numbering about 8100, are used to seeing this marvel of nature. Lady Cynthia had been present since around 1904. Its first owners are said to have brought the bush from Scotland where it had originally sprouted, traveling through the Atlantic, around Cape Horn, and then north along the coast of South America. Since then, the bush has rested on a hill in front of a home owned by Peter Richmond, 55, at 226 Kitchener Street where the plant is visible to Ladysmith’s harbor. 

Another theory claims that Lady Cynthia is a clone grown from a cutting from a bush in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. 

Lady Cynthia is so named because the rhododendron is actually a Cynthia hybrid of the original plant. This was developed in Devon, England in the mid-1800s and today it flourishes in the mild temperatures of the Pacific Northwest. 

Local historian Ron Johnson, like so many of his fellow residents, haven’t always appreciated the plant. 

“You’re so used to it,” he said. “But it’s so unique.” [2] 

Sometimes it takes newcomers coming to town to admire Lady Cynthia for locals to remember what kind of botanical glory they have on their literal doorsteps. The chamber does request visitors to respect the private property where Lady Cynthia grows.  

Rumors of the Woman Who Planted the 100-year-old Rhododendron 

Photos of an elderly woman standing next to the rhododendron have been circulating the internet, with some claiming that she was the one who had planted the bush. So far, these claims have not been verified. Whether the woman had planted it or not, it’s easy to assume that if she was a long-time resident of Ladysmith, she had watched Lady Cynthia grow into the giant, resplendent bush we see today. [3] 

That’s something to tell your grandkids, that you saw a town attraction when it was just a sapling. 

Read: Poland’s Mysterious “Crooked ForestPopulated with 400 Bent Trees

The Ladysmith Rhododendron Damaged in a Storm 

Unfortunately, nature is unrelenting, even in the face of beauty or popularity, and in December 2018, Lady Cynthia was damaged in a winter storm. The extreme weather had caused blackouts in residential homes and businesses, and collapsed two of the three main branches of the famous bush. 

The owner of the property, Peter Richmond, is the proprietor of a chain of grocery stores in Ladysmith, Chemainus, Duncan, and Cedar. 

“I mean you could tell it was an old tree but certainly we didn’t expect something like this to happen,” Richmond said. 

A horticulturalist advised Richmond to have the remaining single branch pruned so it can bear the weight of the canopy more easily. 

“We’ll see what we can do with the piece that’s left . . . it’s kind of tenuous, but we’re all hopeful that we can save that part of it,” he said. 

In the meantime, members of rhododendron societies from Nanaimo and Victoria visited the small town to examine the bush and take cuttings of it so they can potentially grow clones. [4] Although Lady Cynthia is still holding strong, it’s nice to think about more of these stunning bushes being planted, although it seems unlikely that any rhododendron would be able to match Lady Cynthia’s former splendor.  

Keep Reading: The World’s Largest Privately Owned Sequoia Forest Is Now Officially Protected

[1] “’Lady Cynthia’ rhododendron bush puts Canada town on the map.” BBC. May 19, 2017 

[2] “Ladysmith’s century-old, world class rhododendron is hitting its blooming window.” Patrick Johnston. Vancouver Sun. May 18, 2017 

[3] “A 100-year-old Rhododendron and the Woman Who Grew Up Watching the Plant Grow.” Annie Kin. Ach News. June 3, 2020 

[4] “Famous Ladysmith rhododendron damaged after storm.” Chad Pawson. CBC. January 6, 2019 

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