It being sasanqua season, which always seems particularly fleeting, I have been looking again at plants that appear to be wrongly labelled in an attempt to identify them correctly.
In Area 10 at Mount Edgcumbe there is a plant labelled C. oleifera and another labelled C. sasanqua ‘Fukuzutsumi’. Both have been flowering for a couple of weeks and I have been comparing them very closely. As far as I can tell they are identical.
The flowers are pure white, just occasionally having a touch of pink on the outside of the bud. They are 8-10 cms. across, initially cupped but opening out almost flat. They have the usual sasanqua scent, quite strongly.
C. oleifera is a very widely grown species in China, cultivated for oil production and may be expected to be variable. However, in Collected Species of the genus Camellia its flowers are said to be 5.5-7cm across and too small for the plant to have much ornamental value.
C. sasanqua ‘Fukuzutsumi’ is a name that has been applied to more than one variety; the Camellia Register lists three. There is a white single, a red and white single and a red semi-double. The only entry with any reference to the plant outside of Japan is the red and white one, a view supported by pictures in Macaboy’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia and 1001 camellias in Nantes and Brittany. There are also images on Camellia.pics. All show a single flower, white at the centre and grading to pink at the edges.
Having concluded it seemed unlikely that the Mt Edgcumbe plants were either C. oleifera or C. sasanqua ‘Fukuzutsumi’, I posted the pictures above on the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group Facebook page and I am grateful to Dan Everard for steering me towards C. sasanqua ‘Fragrans’.
It seems likely that both the Mt Edgcumbe plants were obtained from reputable nurseries who were selling them in the belief that they were what they said they were. They may still be doing so. I now have another name to attach to this variety but what does it take to be certain that it is the right one? The Register entry for C. sasanqua ‘Fragrans’ is not especially enlightening: “of graceful, erect habit, bearing ovate-lanceolate leaves and fragrant, white flowers which have a neat cluster of golden stamens”. That could apply to quite a few varieties. There is nothing about its origins. It was shown by Lt. Col. L. Messel of Nymans in 1938 so there may be an “original” plant still there.
Going back to Dan Everard’s pictures on Facebook at least one was of a young plant at Nymans. That strikes me as a basis for a fair degree of confidence in the identification. It is certainly a great deal more likely to be right than the two names I have at present.
As well as the flowers matching well, it has a rather distinctive leaf, a bit shorter and broader than many of its kin. It’s the foliage at least as much as the flowers that I am looking at when comparing plants. There is a second plant at Mt Edgcumbe labelled C. ‘Fukuzutsumi’ which was badly damaged by a tree falling on it a year ago. It has no flowers, but the similarity of the foliage leaves little room for doubt that it is the same variety as well.
I wonder where the Nymans plant came from. Did they raise it there? It seems unlikely; more likely it came from Japan and was given the name here. Is it grown in other countries under a different name?
Unconnected with Mt Edgcumbe the variety C. sasanqua ‘Cotton Candy’ came across my radar this week accompanied by a big question mark about identity. Back in my nursery days I had bought liners of this in 1996. They came from Liners New Zealand along with ‘Fairy Wand’ and ‘Jean Claris’. I had no reason to doubt the accuracy of their naming and the internet had barely started so checking on it would have been much more difficult. A couple of the original batch of 25 were planted at the nursery as stock plants and many more cuttings taken in later years. As it turns out, all were ‘Plantation Pink’. To anyone who bought ‘Plantation Pink’, wrongly labelled ‘Cotton Candy’, I apologise.
Let me end on a positive. Every year without fail I am amazed anew when Camellia ‘Show Girl’ comes into bloom. The autumn/winter camellias in the main have medium sized or small flowers, as often as not singles. Their impact largely comes from the lack of any competition at this time of year. ‘Show Girl’ is different. I measured two blooms at 14.5cms across, nearly 6 inches. It would be a large flower among the bigger spring bloomers.
This plant grows in an opening surrounded by trees. It is shaded from direct sun but the sky above is blue. My camera, set to daylight, sees it as mauve. One day I will take a picture of something white beside it and correct the white balance but most of the camellias are in similar conditions and your eyes get used to it.