Persephone

Plant Heritage is the organisation that oversees the business of National Collections and as part of that they provide an online database system onto which collection holders can put the records of their collection. It’s called Persephone. Their earlier database system was called Demeter. Cultured lot, Plant Heritage.

As far as the Mt Edgcumbe collection is concerned, I have taken over the record keeping for the collection as part of my volunteer input. It is very time consuming and the park staff simply do not have the time to devote to it. What makes it especially valuable is that if my involvement with the collection stops, all the work on the collection records that I have done is available for whoever comes along.

As of today, there are 1747 records in the database. 1641 are live plants the identity of which is known with a measure of confidence. 96 are live plants where the name appears to be wrong but which I have not so far succeeded in identifying with confidence. These are flagged as excluded. There are a few on either side of the line which could be moved the other way, these things are seldom clear cut. A further 10 records are of plants that have died in the last few years, while I have been doing the records.

The database is currently recognising 909 taxa, the 1641 live plants includes many single specimen varieties and some with multiple specimens. In theory there should be two of each taxa but quite where they would go and who would look after them is a big unknown. Most of the excluded 96 are one offs, so there would be around 1000 varieties in the collection if they could be identified.

For each accession there is a basic data set that should be included. The name, accession number, date planted, source. Additional information can be put in to existing database fields and extra fields can be added if they are required. I have been adding photographs of flowers and in some cases foliage for every variety for which I have them. GPS coordinates have been collected for about half the collection.

It is a work in progress and always will be. I like to keep taking pictures year after year of the same varieties; it highlights how different they can be from one year to the next. I am constantly revisiting the varieties excluded because they are unidentified, trying different angles to pin down what they are.

It’s an excellent rainy day job and we’ve not been short of rainy days this winter. I have completed 35 sections out of 43, so I’m hoping to get it wrapped up before the main flowering season kicks of in 2021. I’m hoping not to have last year’s restrictions on access to contend with this spring; I have very long lists of things to check, photos to take, labels to replace and much else besides.

Let me give one example of a question I am trying to answer.

There are three plants in the collection of C. japonica ‘Twiss Cornwall’. One was a plant I gave them, the cuttings for which will have come from one of the Mt Edgcumbe plants. The source for one is given in the records as “Garden House, Buckland Monochorum 1980/1988”; for the other it is “Champernowne 1998”. Champernowne is a wholesale nursery also in Buckland Monochorum. It seems likely they share a common ancestor. I have spoken to the proprietor of Champernowne Nursery and he doesn’t recall ever having the variety so the source information may be wrong.

‘Twiss Cornwall’ doesn’t have much of an entry in the Camellia Register. It reads thus:
“Twiss Cornwall. (C.japonica) Woodward, L., 1987, International Camellia Journal, No.19, p.77. No description. Originated in England. No valid listing located.”

Now Les Woodward was the collection curator at Mt Edgcumbe prior to 1990 and the article referred to here was little more than a list of the camellias in the collection, so it gets me no further forward. However, I realised last spring that ‘Twiss Cornwall’ appears to be identical to the variety ‘Saturnia’, represented by three plants in the collection. I have no particular reason to doubt the authenticity of the plants of ‘Saturnia’ so it seems likely that ‘Twiss Cornwall’ is no more than a synonym for ‘Saturnia’. It’s easy to imagine someone in Cornwall by the name of Twiss sending cuttings of their excellent but unidentified red camellia to someone else, who labelled it “Twiss, Cornwall” for want of anything better.

What adds a little twist to it is that there is a good sized plant on Battlestone Hill at Wisley labelled ‘Twiss Cornwall’, for which their records show no origin.

The accession page for one of the plants of ‘Twiss Cornwall’ that I have reallocated to ‘Saturnia’.

It doesn’t really matter how the name ‘Twiss Cornwall’ came to be if I can be certain that it is in fact no more than an erroneous moniker for ‘Saturnia’ but it would be interesting to know. I may yet get the chance to tell Mr Twiss what his camellia really is.

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