Origin: Europe & Western Asia
This species is a small tree or large shrub which occurs naturally in three main regions: around about the Black Sea, the Balkans and in the Iberian Peninsula. It was introduced into the British Isles in the second half of the eighteenth century, but investigations of the fossil record of Irish peat deposits in the late 1940s revealed that this plant had occurred as a native in Ireland during the Gortian Interglacial - a warm period approximately 428000 - 302000 years ago and one of several warm periods which interrupted the intense cold of the 'Ice Age' which has characterised the last two million years in northern europe and which ended only about 12000 years ago. It is a very common plant in demesnes and parks, much planted in Victorian times. It has given rise to a number of hybrids and in fact most plants in cultivation and those that have escaped may be hybrids and not the pure species. They are a great nuisance in that they spread easily into woodland and into open acid peaty ground such as bogland. They pose a threat both to natural vegetation and to the balance of species in planted woodland and parkland, often forming great impenetrable thickets in demesnes if left unchecked - similar problems can be caused by cherry-laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) with which Rhododendron ponticum grows in parts of its Black Sea homeland. In spite of these problems, this species and its hybrids can be highly decorative when in flower in early- to mid-summer.