Identity issues, ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyô’ – Part two.

I promise this will be my last word on the subject. I have been back up to the park again today specifically to scrutinise these two varieties minutely. A dog walker passed by, couldn’t contain her curiosity and asked me what I was doing. I bet she wished she’d never asked.

I have homed in on a few new characteristics that may be useful in distinguishing these two varieties and I have looked more closely at leaf size and shape, which I referred to before. In the first of the following two pictures of ‘Setsugekka’ there are several leaves where the widest point of the leaf is markedly closer to the basal end, though it is less noticeable in the second. The leaf tip is acute, the base rounded or almost so. Another thing I noticed was that the leaves stick out sideways from the stem almost at right angles, or more precisely, the petiole leaves the stem at about 45° then bends at the base of the lamina, which then sticks out nearly at right angles.

By contrast, in these next images of ‘Kenkyô’, the leaf base is never rounded and the broadest part of the leaf often goes on longer, narrowing more abruptly to the apex. The leaves are almost forward along the shoot, at 45° or less in most cases. Finally, though the difference is not great, ‘Kenkyô’ is less glossy than ‘Setsugekka’.

Another thing I wanted to look at was the flower buds. Kenkyô has buds that are usually wholly green, becoming green and white as the petals begin to show. The bud scales are green in the centre, paler towards the margins. Only in around one bud in ten did I see any pink pigment on the emerging petals. Silky hairs were sometimes quite evident, other times less so.

The two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ are growing near each other but 3C-027 is at the front of the planting in full sun, 3C-028 is further back and in the shade of a conifer. It also has fewer buds because it is recovering from extensive damage from a falling tree. I have labelled the pictures to distinguish them. In almost every case the bud scales are pigmented reddish-brown and in the majority of cases when the petals start to emerge they have pink pigmentation on them. It is perhaps worth noting that there is no absolute dividing line between bud scales and petals with some intermediates.

I’m unsure how useful a piece of information it is but for Kenkyô and 3C-028 ‘Setsugekka’ (the vigorous one) I picked out ten “typical” leaves and measured them. Those of ‘Kenkyô’ averaged 34.8mm wide, 74.6mm long inc. petiole, with average petiole length 6.2mm. 3C-028 ‘Setsugekka’ came out at 32mm wide by 70.8mm long with an average petiole of 4.4mm. “Typical” is a subjective term; I avoided the smaller leaves produced at the beginning and end of growth spurts as well as any unusually large leaves.

Where then does this get us. You have an unknown plant. On the basis of the flowers it might be possible to narrow the possibilities to a handful of possible varieties. One or two of them could perhaps be quickly dismissed on a single characteristic, for example having leaves that are far too big or too small. It would then be practical to compare the specimen on all of characteristics I have mentioned to hopefully get a definite match. That would tell you that your plant is the same as mine.

What it doesn’t necessarily tell you is whether you now have an accurate identification for your plant because it is far from certain that my plant, on which I have based the description, is correctly identified. The reasons for plants being wrongly named are legion and there is little mileage in trying to apportion blame. It does seem to me though, that we now have the technology to put together detailed descriptions backed up with plenty of photographs and to put that information into the public domain. It then requires interested parties to start a dialogue around the areas of disagreement and see whether they can be resolved.

For starters then, are the two plants in the collection actually ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyô’? Are they identified the correct way round? What else might they be? I am open to the possibility of either or both of the names being wrong and would be happy to be convinced of an alternative identity. I wouldn’t be happy to be told that they’re something else with no explanation or evidence to back it up. I’d be interested to hear that what appears to be the same plant as either of them is being grown under a different name, even if the grower is no more certain their name is right than I am.

Identity issues, ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyo’

Mt Edgcumbe has two plants of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ and one of ‘Kenkyo’, or does it?

In section 3C are two plants which are labelled C. sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’. According to the collection records both came from Stonehurst Nursery and were planted in 2003. In early March 2018 a large tree fell on top of one of them, reducing it in size by around 75%. I tidied it up and it has made an impressive recovery, with strong new upright growth of 6-8 feet in the four seasons since. Last year it produced the first flowers since the mishap and it is flowering again this year.

Prior to 2018 I never had cause to consider whether the two plants were identical. They flowered at the same time and looked very similar, they’d come from the same source, they had the same label; I took them to be the same. Looking back at old pictures they look the same.

However, to look at them now it is hard to believe they are the same variety. The plant that was trashed by the falling tree is growing very strongly and has healthy lustrous dark green foliage. The other plant looks to be in poor condition. It is making very little new growth and its foliage is comparatively yellowish and spotted. Like many seriously stressed plants it is flowering as if this might be the last year it gets a chance to but the flowers are a little smaller than they should be.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyô’ is at the other end of the collection, in section 1G. It has a label on it saying Camellia hiemalis ‘Chansonette’. ‘Chansonette’ is described in the Register as having formal double flowers in strong brilliant pink so the name is clearly wrong. The records show that it came from Coghurst Nursery in 2002 and a few years back I checked their website to see whether they were listing anything that looked like it. Back then ‘Kenkyô’ was in their catalogue. ‘Setsugekka’ seemed like a contender too, based on pictures and descriptions but similar though they are, it isn’t the same as the two plants in section 3C. Eventually I found a plant labelled ‘Kenkyô’ at Trewithen Garden and was able to compare it closely, reaching the conclusion that they were the same.

It has been suggested to me that the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ might in fact be ‘Kenkyô’, meaning that the 1G plant might in turn be ‘Setsugekka’. It doesn’t help the cause that the blooms on both varieties are somewhat variable, especially on the one I’ve been taking to be ‘Kenkyô’, so a single picture of a bloom in a book could probably match either plant and photos of foliage, which might help corroborate a tentative identification, are seldom provided.

I have been looking for characteristics on the two varieties that might support the floral evidence and the first problem is that the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ are so different. It seems to me that I must first find characteristics that are common to both plants in spite of their differences and to then compare those characteristics with ‘Kenkyô’.

‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) x 2, ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-028) x 2, ‘Kenkyô’ (1G-014) x 2. Top side. (5mm grid on background)
‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) x 2, ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-028) x 2, ‘Kenkyô’ (1G-014) x 2. Underside. (5mm grid on background)

I reckon the leaves of ‘Kenkyô’ are larger and don’t taper to the apex as quickly. The widest point of the ‘Setsugekka’ leaves is often nearer the base than the apex while in ‘Kenkyô’ it rarely is and may be nearer the apex. The extreme margins (0.5-1mm) of most of the leaves of ‘Setsugekka’ are turned down slightly whereas the leaves of ‘Kenkyo’ are usually flat to the edge. Some of the leaves of ‘Setsugekka’ have bases which are rounded, as in the third leaf above, while ‘Kenkyô’ bases usually have a narrower angle.

On another occasion I took pictures of the flower buds of ‘Kenkyô’, thinking they looked like they might be distinctive. I didn’t at the time follow up with pictures of the buds of ‘Setsugekka’ so that’s one for next time I’m up the park.

The two bushes of ‘Setsugekka’ are upright, ‘Kenkyô’ is wide spreading, and ‘Setsugekka’ was into flower a week or two earlier than ‘Kenkyô’. I’m not sure I’d trust either characteristic to be the killer blow.

I’m trying to think as if I was keying out the two varieties using a botanical key. Single to semi-double flowers, opening flat, of a certain size, autumn flowering, just the occasional touch of pink. That gets you down to maybe three to five varieties, but homing in on just one takes a few more details. A person very familiar with all the contenders would perhaps recognize which was which at a glance, without necessarily being conscious of exactly why they knew. That’s not me. I want someone to say that you can always recognize ‘Kenkyô’, or ‘Setsugekka’ or whatever by some specific, unique character or combination of characters. Here are some more pictures.

‘Kenkyô’ 1G-014

‘Setsugekka’ 3C-027

Are they ‘Kenkyô’ and ‘Setsugekka’? Do I have them the right way round. And, crucially, how do you know?