First of the season.

I almost missed it, but today, in my greenhouse, I spotted my first camellia flower of the 2017/18 season. Camellia sinensis ‘Benibana-cha’, flowering on a scruffy little plant about a foot tall that has been in the same 2 litre pot for several years. It has plenty of buds to come but sadly its new growth is paltry and I was unable to take any cuttings this year, again. I should put flags next to the plants that need a lot more TLC than they’re getting, they’d be harder to overlook.

The bloom has a strong aroma. I hesitate to say scent, or fragrance, to my nose it is the smell of an aromatic oil, the emphasis on oil rather than aromatic. Not unpleasant, but like new tarmac, you wouldn’t rate your chances of selling a perfume based on it.

Camellia-sinensis-'Benibana-cha'

Looking back, I see that I posted a tweet about it being my first camellia on 28 Sept last year.

What happens when nothing’s happening.

The flowering season for camellias at Mount Edgcumbe runs from October to May. Last summer I was still trying to sort out a host of nomenclatural issues from the 2015/16 flowering season. This summer there has not been much that I could add to that, so my last four weekly visits have been spent strimming around the camellias. Last summer a group of European students did the job, this year there were none.

Far be it from me to complain, but strimming bracken that is above my head, on slippery steep slopes, whilst being assailed by horseflies and tics, for zero remuneration, is not something I can pretend to enjoy. Satisfaction comes from standing back from a job well done and knowing that it was done with as much care as possible.

Mt-Edgcumbe-1

Before and after in area 1P

 

Mt-Edgcumbe-2

Before and after in area 1J.

I have also taken cuttings of a number of plants in the collection that are only represented by one specimen. One of these was C. caudate, which fell over last year but in spite of being completely prostrate, has survived to yield a batch of cuttings. It seemed likely that that standing it up would break the remaining tenuous link to its root system.

I have also done a small number of grafts, of two of the C. reticulata forms in the collection. I shall post a more detailed blog about that in due course.

The biggest problem with trying to get duplicates of all the plants in the collection is that it is difficult enough to keep on top of what is there now, without adding any more. One solution may be to try and get other people to take on one or more of the back up plants and to keep records of them as if they were part of the main collection.

Mt-Edgcumbe-3

My small mist system with 40 odd varieties of camellias.

Mt-Edgcumbe-4

Cleft graft, tied and waxed.

New shoots.

I have now spent fourteen months trying to identify with certainty the many camellias at Mt Edgcumbe which appear to be wrongly named. I have had my successes but they are woefully outnumbered by my failures.

What is lacking is a range of characteristics that, if not set in stone, are at least reasonably consistent in all the plants of a particular variety, irrespective of the climate, season, location, growing conditions and so on.

The size, shape and colour of the blooms is so variable as to be almost useless, certainly without corroborating evidence. Leaves and shoots are no better, with big variations in size, shape and edge serrations even on the same shoot.

Comparing a specimen in hand with a description is rarely very useful except when the differences are substantial and an identity can be ruled out. The flower should be red but is in fact white.

One feature I have found myself using is the nature of the new shoots. For any given variety there are several characteristics that seem to be reasonably consistent over a complete plant and between plants of the same variety, even in substantially different growing conditions. These are:

1)Timing of production of new growth.
2)Colour and pigmentation of upper and lower surface of the leaf, petiole and shoot.
3)Glossiness of upper and lower leaf surface.
4)Shape of the terminal bud on the new growth.

The colour differences are only apparent for the first few weeks after the shoot is produced.

Tomorrow

The two shoots in this picture belong to ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’, growing within feet of each other in section E.

The variety ‘Tomorrow’ has produced the largest number of sports of any camellia but, as far as I know, the variants are all related to flower colour. The Camellia Register makes few references to characters other than the blooms and when it does it is to say that they are the same as ‘Tomorrow’ itself. I compared the foliage of ‘Tomorrow’ with that of ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and they were indistinguishable. However, compared to ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’ they are quite different. The pigmentation of leaves and shoot is very clear in the shoot of ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and is completely lacking in ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’

Ergo, it is not ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’. It is the same as the plant in 1G labelled ‘Nuccio’s Gem’, which I know to be wrong because it is pink and ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ is pure white.

In Area 6 is a plant with no label but marked on the map as ‘Fanny Bolis’. It should have formal double blooms that are white with red spots and streaks. It is actually a semi-double red. However, in the register it says that the name ‘Fanny Bolis’ was erroneously being applied to ‘Latifolia Variegated’ from the 1950’s onward. There are two plants in Area 1G labelled ‘Latifolia’ and I compared a shoot of so called ‘Fanny Bolis’ with them both. I got a perfect match with one, 1G-064; the other, 1G-063 is something quite different. I was able to corroborate the identification by comparing 1G-064 with a plant of ‘Latifolia’ in a garden elsewhere.

Latifolia

(not) ‘Fanny Bolis’, ‘Latifolia’ and (not) ‘Latifolia’

 

One step forward, one step back. 6-010 ‘Fanny Bolis’ is the same as 1G-064 ‘Latifolia’, the collection shrinks by one variety. 1G-064 ‘Latifolia’ is clearly different from 1G-063 ‘Latifolia’, it grows again. Sometimes my head hurts!

A Trio of Awkward Aussies.

‘Jean Lyne’ is an Australian variety raised in the 1940’s. Its register description is semi-double white with pink stripes and flecks. Two sports are listed, ‘Edith Linton’ and ‘Nancy Bird’. There is a plant labelled ‘Jean Lyne’ in Area 4D. I took these pictures of it yesterday.

Jean-Lyne

‘Jean Lyne’ 4D-016

 

‘Edith Linton’ seems to have been released as a sport quite early. It is described as semi double silvery pink and there are pictures in Macaboy and on CamelliasAustralia.com. They show a bloom very like the pictures of ‘Jean Lyne’ above, though with fully developed stamens in a central cluster. ‘Edith Linton’ has given rise to the sport ‘Edith Linton Deep Pink’.

There are three mature bushes labelled ‘Edith Linton’ in the Mount Edgcumbe collection, at 4A-018, 4E-025 and 4F-012. Two young plants were added to Area 4D in 2016 but have not flowered yet.
The 4A-018 plant appears identical to ‘Jean Lyne’ 4D-016. The difference in colour in the photographs is mostly due to different lighting conditions.

Edith-Linton-4A-018

‘Edith Linton’ 4A-018

Both of the other two large bushes produce primarily white blooms with pink markings, plus occasional pink blooms in a variety of colours and patterns. Here are pictures of both taken yesterday.

Edith-Linto-4F-012

‘Edith Linton’ 4F-012

Edith-Linton-4E-025

‘Edith Linton’ 4E-025

 

‘Nancy Bird’ is represented by one old bush that is in rather poor health. It is described in the register as a light pink sport of ‘Jean Lyne’, identical in every respect except colour. There are pictures in Macaboy and on CamelliasAustralia.com. In both cases they show a pale pink bloom with deeper pink stripes; in the CamelliasAustralia case it has a white edge to the petals. In other words, both pictures are at odds with the “official” description.
The poor condition of ‘Nancy Bird’ doesn’t stop it flowering profusely and again, I photographed it yesterday. I fancy it could have been a slightly deeper shade of pink than ‘Jean Lyne’ 4D-016, but it was marginal at best.

Nancy-Bird-4A-032

‘Nancy Bird’ 4A-032

 

The foliage is pretty much identical on all four bushes, the new growth is emerging at exactly the same time and is the same colour. The flowering of all four is at the same stage, all over but for a few odd blooms. The shape of all the flowers is very similar. I am left in no doubt that they represent ‘Jean Lyne’ and one or more of its sports.

It is curious that the white ‘Edith Linton’s throw up a variety of blooms but the self pinks bear only pink blooms. The white seems to be a chimaera containing two genotypes, the pink seemingly only has one.

It would appear that ‘Jean Lyne’ 4D-016, ‘Edith Linton’ 4A-018 and ‘Nancy Bird’ 4A-032 are in fact all ‘Edith Linton’. They may be ‘Edith Linton Deep Pink’ but that will be impossible to resolve without accurate colour pictures from a reliable source.

The two bicolored ‘Edith Linton’s are probably best regarded as ‘Jean Lyne’. All the evidence points to ‘Nancy Bird’ being an unreliably unstable entity the exact appearance of which is lost in the mists of time.

I shall recommend that they are relabelled accordingly. Ironically the only one that seems to be correctly identified doesn’t have a label on it, so five new labels are needed.

Unravelling Julia Drayton.

There are some groups of camellias that seem particularly problematic as far as correct naming goes. One such group centres around ‘Julia Drayton’. The variety was found and named at Magnolia Gardens, John’s Island, South Carolina but is thought to have come from Europe originally. No similar variety has been found in Europe so it has not been possible to clear up its origins.
In the Register it is described as very large, rose form or formal double, crimson with a purplish cast on the outer petals.

It is widely known in America as ‘Mathotiana’, an existing and distinct variety. It has aquired a number of synonyms; ‘Purple Dawn’, ‘Purple Emperor’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Purple King’, ‘Purple Empress’, ‘Mathotiana Purple King’, ‘Princess Louise’, ‘William S. Hastie’, and, erroneously, ‘Mathotiana Rubra’ and ‘Mathotiana’.
It has also given rise to a range of sports including: ‘Flowerwood’, ‘Sultana’, ‘Red Wonder’, ‘Red Wonder Variegated’, ‘Rosea Superba’, ‘Julia Drayton Variegated’, ‘Mathotiana Supreme’, ‘Mathotiana Supreme Variegated’.

At Mount Edgcumbe there is just one plant in the collection bearing the name ‘Julia Drayton’, at 1M-032. This is a rangy bush growing in full shade which has flowers and foliage indistinguishable from ‘Grand Sultan’ at 5D-008.

Julia-Sultan

‘Julia Drayton’ (1M-032) and ‘Grand Sultan’ (5D-008)

Near to ‘Julia Drayton’ are two plants of ‘Flowerwood’, which is supposed to be a fimbriated sport of ‘Julia Drayton’, identical except for fimbriated petals. Both are carrying flowers with no trace of fimbriation and quite distinct from ‘Julia Drayton’/’Grand Sultan’, as is the foliage. They are however, identical in both respects to another nearby plant, IN-061 labelled ‘Purple Emperor’.
Looking back at pictures of ‘Flowerwood’ from previous years, they have sometimes shown light fimbriation at the tips of the petals.

Emperor-Flowerwood

‘Purple Emperor’ (1N-061) and ‘Flowerwood’ (1M-018)

 

I have high confidence of the identity of ‘Grand Sultan’ as its sport ‘Augusto Leal de Gouveia Pinto’ (5D-002) is unmistakeable and is identical to ‘Grand Sultan’ in leaf as well as producing the occasional reverted identical bloom. I am satisfied that 1M-032 is in fact ‘Grand Sultan’ not ‘Julia Drayton’.
It seems highly likely that the two ‘Flowerwood’ at 1M-018 and 1M-019 and the identical ‘Purple Emperor’ at 1N-061 are all ‘Julia Drayton’.

Lastly, the plant labelled ‘Mathotiana’ at 1P-026 is also ‘Grand Sultan’. It was apparently grafted onto ‘Gwavas’ and the rootstock had grown taller than the scion variety. It has now been removed.

Grand-Sultan

‘Grand Sultan’ (1P-026), corrected from ‘Mathotiana’ and with ‘Gwavas’ stock removed.

‘Grand Sultan’, like ‘Julia Drayton’, has also been wrongly distributed under the name ‘Mathotiana’.
‘Mathotiana Alba’ and its sports ‘Mathotiana Rose’ and ‘Souvenir de Bahoud Litou’ are not related to ‘Mathotiana’, Julia Drayton’ or ‘Grand Sultan’.

Doing other things

The last few weeks have been peak camellia season and I should have liked to have spent a little extra time up at the collection checking on things while flowering continued. As it is there have been other things to do and I have instead spent less time on site.

All is not lost however. I do now have photos of almost everything in the collection that is going to flower this season. There are young plants, recently pruned plants and seriously unhappy plants that will not flower, fortunately not very many.

Take today; I had intended to spend the day up there but had to stay home because we had scaffolders in. It was also cold and windy, so I have been at the computer all day adding pictures for new sections and updating some old ones.

1C, 4C, 5A, 5B and 5C are now more or less complete. I am very glad to have finished with 5A for a while; so many anomalies and questions to resolve.

I’m also feeling quite pleased because I am reasonably certain that I have resolved one wrongly labelled plant, actually there are two of the same variety. In 5C, a European section, are two very compact, very free flowering bushes labelled ‘Perfecta’. The label says they are of French origin. They look out of place amongst the 19th century varieties that surround them. They are in fact ‘Perfecta’ (Jury), raised by Les Jury in New Zealand and distributed here by Trehane Camellias as ‘Perfecta’, a name already in use for two 19th century varieties from France and Italy. Trehane’s don’t seem to list it any more, too slow and tricky to propagate at a guess.

Camellia-Perfecta

Camellia x williamsii ‘Perfecta’ (Jury)

Tricoloured trials.

Camellia-Dainty

There is a plant in Area 1G labelled ‘Dainty’. All the above blooms were photographed on the same occasion. They are not the full extent of its repertoire.

The name ‘Dainty’ has been used for at least three different varieties and this one should correctly be ‘Dainty’ (California). It was selected as a sport of ‘Tricolor’ in California in the 1940’s. It is described in the Camellia Register as “blush white striped red with fringed and ruffled petals” and I assume this is how it was described when registered. The implication is that a flower or flowers appeared on a plant of ‘Tricolor’ with the characteristics of ‘Dainty’. Propagation material was taken from this part of the plant and new plants raised. The flowers borne by these plants were consistently of ‘Dainty’ with little or no tendency to revert to ‘Tricolor’ or any other form.

‘Lady de Saumerez’ is also a sport of ‘Tricolor’ with solid light red flowers. A fimbriated (frilly edged) sport of ‘Lady de Saumerez’ occurred and this was named ‘Fred Sander’. This is described in some detail in the register and there was an accompanying painting with the original description. The description reads “Flowers measure 12-14 cm across with petals slashed and curled at the rim, undulate, of a brilliant scarlet. They resemble large carnations. The edges of the petals are indented and curled,”

LDS-Fred

‘Lady de Saumerez’ (1G-060) and ‘Fred Sander’ 

 

In the 1950’s a sport arose on ‘Fred Sander’ with white flowers blotched and streaked with pink. It retains the fimbriated petals, which are also twisted. This was named ‘Cinderella’. The register description is “White with streaks, veining and blotches of rose madder. Medium size, semi-double with irregular, cupped petals, the edges deeply lacinated, fimbriated and wrinkled.” It seems that ‘Cinderella’ is similar to ‘Dainty’, differing in the petals being more distorted and giving the impression of a more fully double flower, but that said, ‘Dainty’ is supposed to have “fringed and ruffled petals” so perhaps that characteristic has been lost in the 1G plant. ‘Raspberry Ice’ and ‘Robert Strauss’ have arisen as sports from ‘Cinderella’. They are supposed to be similar or identical and ‘Raspberry Ice’ is described as having petals that are “large, emarginated and crêped’. Perhaps ‘Robert Strauss’ (1N-064) is not as it should be either.

Cind-Rob

‘Cinderella’ and ‘Robert Strauss’ (1N-064)

 

The plant of ‘Dainty’ in Area 1J has only red flowers, with and without fimbriated petals. If ‘Dainty’ derives from ‘Tricolor’ direct, it has not so much reverted back to ‘Fred Sander’ as stepped sideways.

Dainty-1J-019

‘Dainty'(?) (1J-019)

‘Cinderella’ in 1L is all red flowered, with fimbriated petals. The flowers are perhaps a bit less opened out with more twisted petals. It has a tendency to take a very long time to open and the exposed petal edges are often damaged by the time it does.

Cinders-1L-004

‘Cinderella'(?) (1L-004)

When I worked on a nursery a customer brought back a plant of ‘Fred Sander’ because it was not a sufficiently bright shade of red. He was adamant that we had sold him the wrong plant. I am still not sure whether this is another possible genetic variant or whether the depth of colour is a response to environmental factors. I would certainly not deny that the colour varies.

It  is likely that the nursery trade is responsible for producing significant numbers of plants that are not true to type. Taking large numbers of cuttings increases the number of mutations in chimaeral varieties and also reduces or stops flowering which would allow a check to be made on the stability of the variety. With camellias, it may be that many are sold before they flower or that wrongness is overlooked or ignored. Customers are often unaware that a plant is not true to type and it is not unusual for plants to have no picture label or to carry a generic picture.

I know of a large bush of ‘Lady de Saumerez’ which produces “normal” flowers on some branches, out by March, and fimbriated ‘Fred Sander’ blooms on the other branches, opening at least a month later. The fimbriated petals are trying to burst out of the buds and are very vulnerable to frost or wind damage. The owner does not know what was planted and you could now call it by either name or both, the two forms being about equally prominent. The occasional white blooms appears now and again, to complicate matters still further.

 

 

As far as the National Collection plants go, it seems it is not possible to be absolutely certain that a variety is exactly as it was when it was selected and named. The descriptions generally available are not detailed enough and even if they were, who could say that a difference in flower size or colour tone was not due to it growing in Cornwall rather than California where it was raised.

Equally, when a plant appears to have mutated away from what it is supposed to be, is it possible to say with any degree of certainty that it is now something else already described? Can the same end point be reached by different routes?

‘Lady de Saumerez’ seems to be the only variation in this particular tribe that usually stays the same, perhaps suggesting that it is the original form and that all the others derive from it, even though ‘Tricolor’ is the form that was first introduced to the west from Japan.

Tricolor

Camellia japonica ‘Tricolor’ (5B-025)