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Rhododendron ponticum is a non-indigenous evergreen shrub belonging to the Ericaceae family. It was originally introduced by Conrad Loddiges as seed in 1763 to be used as a cultivated flowering plant in gardens, parks, and estates as a horticultural exhibit, but was also extensively planted in western Victorian hunting Estates under woodland canopies and on heathland areas to provide shelter for game species. They also used Rhododendron ponticum as a rootstock for grafting scions from less hardy but more colourful stock from places such as China and the Himalayas.
Rhododendron ponticum grows particularly well in the climate and soils of the British Isles, showing a preference for acidic soils in areas of high humidity, a combination found predominantly on the west of Britain and Ireland. An association with a mycorhizal fungus enables it to assimilate nutrients more effectively than associated species.
Although it possesses attractive flowers R. ponticum has few attributes that offset the negative impact it can have on an invaded site. It has been shown to reduce the numbers of earthworms, birds and plants and regenerative capacity of a site, leading to a reduction in the biodiversity of the area. Physical access to a site can be reduced by the density and size of mature bushes, and management costs then rise as the bushes need to be treated prior to other activities being carried out. Established bushes then act as a seed source for further invasions in adjacent areas, eradicating ground cover plants and interfering with the process of natural regeneration of trees.
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