This attractive species was first found by Sheila Collenette in January 1961 on an Expedition to Gunong Trus Madi, the second highest peak in Sabah, on the crest of the main ridge near the summit between 2135–2285m. The original plant was described as a tree with a substantial trunk over 7m in height, and quite a spectacular sight covered in fully open bright orange flowers. Herbarium collections of this plant were sent to Professor Sleumer in Leiden who described the material as a new species of Rhododendron in series Javanica, No 208a (Sleumer, 1963). In his revision of the genus Rhododendron in Malaysia (Sleumer, 1960) he inserted this between Rhododendron englerianum Koord from New Guinea and R. rhodopus Sleumer from Sulawesi. This appears to be a very precise position but no reasons were given for this placement and there is no reason to suppose this species has a very close relationship with either of those between which it had been interposed. It might have been better placed with R. rugosum Low. ex Hook. f. with which it does have scale type and geographical location in common.