- Name also: Lapland Rosebay
- Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
- Growing form: Perennial dwarf shrub. Mat-forming.
- Height: 5–15 cm (2–6 in.). Stem creeping, abundantly branched, with rigid and spreading branches, woody.
- Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), violet red, approx. 15 mm (0.6 in.) broad; petals 5. Sepals 5, very small. Stamens 10, long, curved. A single carpel. Flowers solitary–in whorls of 3, terminating branches, long-stalked, fragrant.
- Leaves: Alternate terminating shoots, short-stalked, overwintering. Blade elliptic, thick, leathery, fragrant, underside with rust-brown scales, with entire, revolute margins.
- Fruit: 5-valved, ovate capsule.
- Habitat: Fell moors, ridges. Calcicole.
- Flowering time: June–July.
- Endangerment: Near threatened, protected in all of Finland.
Rhododendrons are members of the Heather family. There are up to 750 species – and according to certain estimates this number could be double. In Finland, however, there are only one species (formerly 2 when Labradory tea, Ledum palustre was included in the Rhododendron family). In Finland Lapland rhododendron grows only in the remotest corners of Lapland: on the three fells of Enontekiö and very rarely in Utsjoki.
On the slopes of the Himalayas rhododendrons can grow into 20-metre (65 feet) tall trees, and other rhododendrons that are familiar from gardens can become 2-metre (7 feet) high bushes, but Lapland rhododendron doesn’t grow higher than a hand-span. It doesn’t lack any of the markers of its genus, however. The leaves are close together at the top of the stem, covered in small, brown peltate hairs which, when massaged, release an aromatic fragrance. Lapland rhododendron’s reddish violet flowers open early, often immediately after the snow has melted, which in Lapland means around midsummer. Flowering Lapland rhododendron is very attractive, but after it has bloomed it can be easily confused with other plants that grow on the fell moors.
Lapland rhododendron’s habitat has troubled botanists for a long time. The species grows on Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian fells, in Greenland, and also in Siberia and North America. It doesn’t grow in northern Russia, so the puzzle is, where was it during the last Ice Age, and where did it spread from after the ice receded? Researchers have assumed that shore fells in Norway along the coasts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, which would have been free of snow and ice, would have provided safe havens for northern flora and fauna to survive. This kind of habitat would suit around twenty other fell plants in addition to Lapland rhododendron.