An evergreen shrub, 2 to 4 ft high; young stems soon glabrous. Leaves stiff and hard in texture, oval or ovate, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long, 5⁄8 to 11⁄4 in. wide, pointed, with bristle-like teeth on the margins, green and glabrous above, of a vivid blue-white and slightly bristly on the midrib beneath. Racemes slightly downy, 2 to 3 in. long, produced from the leaf-axils, and conspicuous for their large, persistent, blue-white bracts, edged with bristles. Corolla pinkish white, 1⁄4 in. long, cylindrical, contracted at the mouth; calyx glabrous, shallowly lobed. Berries 1⁄3 in. in diameter, globose, black, covered with blue-white bloom.
Native of the Himalaya from E. Nepal eastwards, thence into northernmost Burma and S.E. Tibet; in cultivation by about 1900. Many of the vacciniums of the eastern Himalaya and S.E. Asia are epiphytes, but this often forms extensive thickets near the tree-line in some localities, thriving in places too dry for most rhododendrons. It is one of the finest of the hardier vacciniums, remarkable for the vivid blue-white bloom on the fruits, bracts and the under-surface of the leaves. The fruits are very freely borne in this country and are often untouched by birds until late winter.
V. glauco-album seems to have been little known in gardens outside a few collections until it received an Award of Merit when shown from Bodnant in 1931. The Bodnant form represents an old introduction and is figured in Bot. Mag., t. 9536. But many of the plants now in gardens derive from the seed collected by Kingdon Ward in late 1924 on the Doshong La at the eastern end of the Himalaya (Bot. Mag., t. 8924). Since then there have been several other introductions – by Ludlow and Sherriff and their companions from the Himalaya and S.E. Tibet, and by Kingdon Ward from the mountains beyond the Tsangpo and from upper Burma.
In the form originally introduced, this species was hopelessly tender at Kew, but later introductions have proved hardy in gardens south of London, in a sheltered position.
V. gaultheriifolium (Griff.) C.B.Cl. Thibaudia gaultheriifolia Griff. – Allied to the above, and with the same white undersides to the leaves and large wax-coated berries, but a taller shrub to about 8 ft high and the leaves up to almost 5 in. long. Native of the Himalaya from E. Nepal eastwards, extending through northernmost Burma into S.W. China. The date of its first introduction is uncertain, but this is Kingdon Ward’s ‘big-leaved vaccinium’ of which he collected seed in 1931 in the Adung Valley, Burma, under KW 9197. The seed was distributed as V. glauco-album, though with a query. It was reintroduced by the University of North Wales expedition to eastern Nepal in 1971.