A deciduous shrub of stiff habit, or, in the wild, sometimes a small tree; young shoots softly downy at first, becoming dark brown by winter. Leaves of firm texture, dullish green, narrowly oval, tapered towards both ends, pointed, finely and regularly toothed, 3 to 4 in. long, half as much wide; veins parallel in six to ten pairs, very downy beneath; stalk 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, purplish. Flowers fragrant, produced in February and March (sometimes earlier) in a cluster of stalked corymbs at the end of the preceding summer’s growth, the whole making a many-flowered inflorescence 2 to 3 in. across. The tube of the corolla is slenderly cylindrical, 1⁄2 in. long, spreading at the mouth into five roundish ovate lobes and measuring there 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. wide. On first opening the corolla is flushed with pale rose, afterwards it is almost pure white; anthers pale yellow. Calyx reddish, with five minute, pointed lobes. Bracts linear, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long and, like the main and secondary flower-stalks, downy. Fruits oval, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, ultimately blackish purple, said to be edible. Bot. Mag., t. 9063.
Native of the Himalaya from Chamba eastward, possibly extending into parts of western China; introduced from Bhutan by Roland Cooper for A. K. Bulley in 1914. In its wood it is quite as hardy as V. farreri, but the flowers are more likely to be damaged or destroyed by frost. The two are closely allied, but V. grandiflorum differs in having the undersides of the leaves, the inflorescence-axes and inner bud-scales densely hairy, and in the longer corolla-tubes of its flowers. As seen in gardens it is of different aspect, with its rather gaunt habit. Its flowers vary in colour as they do in V. farreri. The flowers are usually bright rosy pink and fade only gradually to white as they age, but some plants of the Cooper introduction had almost white flowers. In ‘Snow White’ (A.M. 1970) the limb is white, flushed with pink; this was raised from seeds collected in Nepal by Col. Donald Lowndes in 1950 (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 95 (1970), fig. 172).
V. foetens Decne. – Near to V. grandiflorum both botanically and geographically, and often included in it without distinction. The only essential difference is that the leaves are glabrous or almost so beneath and that the inflorescence too is glabrous, except at the nodes. The corollas are almost as long as in V. grandiflorum and longer than those of V. farreri. In both species there is variation in the inflorescence, which may be congested with the outer bud-scales persisting beneath, or elongate, with the scales fallen away. Nevertheless, some garden plants of V. foetens are very distinct from V. grandiflorum in their roundish, stiff habit, in their stout branchlets, and in not opening their flowers until late in the winter.
V. foetens has a more western distribution than V. grandiflorum, from Chamba, where it overlaps with that species, to Chitral and Hazara. It was described in 1844 from a specimen collected by Jacquemont, the French traveller. So far as is known it did not reach commerce until Messrs Marchant distributed plants, raised from seeds which according to their catalogue of 1937 had been collected by Capt. Simpson-Hayward. In 1934 George M. Taylor, the well-known plantsman, of Longniddry, East Lothian, received seeds from which he raised two plants. The specimen he sent to Kew from one of these was certainly V. foetens, except that the corolla-tubes were unusually short. He also gave to Kew some of the seeds he received in 1934, and a plant raised from them had glabrous leaves as in V. foetens but hairy inflorescence-axes as in V. grandiflorum. When enquiries were made early in the 1950s about the provenance of the seeds, Mr Taylor said they had been collected in Korea, where neither V. grandiflorum nor V. foetens occur, and V. farreri only as a cultivated plant. On the whole it seems likely that Mr Taylor’s memory betrayed him, and that the seed was in fact collected in the western Himalaya.