Rhododendron simsii
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Meet the experts guided tour

Meet Kew's horticultural and science staff and find out about their work behind the scenes. May tours will focus on Rhododendron. Every Tuesday at 11.30am

Event details

Tuesdays at 11.30am, tour lasts about 90 minutes

Meet at the Information desk (by Victoria Plaza café) at 11.15am. 


Included with entry to the Gardens.
Get your tour ticket from any entry gate from 10am on the day of the tour
Save on the price of your Gardens ticket when you book online

Tour overview

During the guided tour you'll meet Kew's knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and visit areas of the Gardens not normally seen by the public. You'll gain an insight into different aspects of work that Kew undertakes in areas of science, horticulture and conservation.

Depending on the featured plant or fungus, the tour could include a visit to the Jodrell Laboratory, the Herbarium or one of our nurseries. You'll see how Kew's research can be used to help people across the globe, for example with reforestation or finding alternative crops for farming in remote areas.

  • Tours will be mainly outside, but you may be taken to different areas behind the scenes at Kew.
  • All locations are wheelchair accessible.
  • Maximum of 15 people per tour.

Get your tour ticket from any entry gate from 10am on the day of the tour.

Introduction to Rhododendron

Rhododendron (including Azalea) is well known to gardeners for its stunning displays of colourful flowers.

It is in the family Ericaceae, along with heathers (Erica and Calluna), blueberries (Vaccinium) and the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

The main centres of diversity are in the Himalayas and in South East Asia.
There are also representatives from across the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere, including Europe and North America.

Plant of the Month tour May 2016, rhododendron

Rhododendron at Kew

Rhododendron has a long tradition at Kew. In the late 1840s, the first Director of Kew, William Jackson Hooker, sent his son Joseph to search for plants in the Himalayas.

His adventure brought back 25 new species which were then planted in the Rhododendron Dell, an area originally landscaped by Capability Brown. 

Arboretum Nursery Manager Andrew Luke’s recent Vietnam expedition brought back seeds of many Rhododendron species for the Kew collections.

Hundreds of specimens now grow in the Rhododendron Dell, including some unique hybrids not found anywhere else

Rhododendron under threat

The IUCN Red List for Rhododendron shows that approximately one quarter of all species are under threat of extinction in the wild. One species is already extinct (R. retorsipilum) and another is known only in cultivation (R. kanehirae).

The centre of diversity of Rhododendron, on the border region between China, India, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, has been historically difficult to access.

Kew (together with Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh) has recently made major Rhododendron collections from Vietnam. This is an important part of the global conservation effort for Rhododendron.

Rhododendron or Azalea?

‘What is the difference between a Rhododendron and an Azalea?’ is key question for gardeners. Azaleas are just a horticultural subgroup of the genus Rhododendron.

Key features of azaleas:

  • five stamens 
  • small to medium shrubs
  • most azaleas are deciduous.