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.

A problem solved, maybe.

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.

‘Plantation Pink’ at Antony Woodland Garden, labelled ‘Cotton Candy’.

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.

Picture as taken on right, adjusted to how I think it looked on left. Actually, it looked like the picture on the right but my brain, seeing it in its context against green leaves, told me it looked like the picture on the left.

Identity Crises

One of the wrongly named plants that had been exercising me recently is a bush in the oldest of the European sections that is labelled Duchesse Decazes. There are actually three plants in this section, 5A, with that name and two are currently in flower. One appears to be correct and looks like this.
Duchess-Decazes

The other one is very different and clearly wrong, in that it doesn’t match any of the descriptions or pictures that I’ve been able to find of ‘Duchess Decazes’. They’re a tricky lot, these old bicolors. They have nearly all given rise to small families of sports, so my first thought was whether it was a mutation, but it’s a solid, clear red and that seemed unlikely.
IMG_7479-5A-019-Duchess-Decazes
Yesterday I was in an American section and came across ‘Firebird’ in flower. It seemed unlikely that a fairly modern American variety would have become confused with an old European but the similarity was there and they were flowering at the same time. I cut a shoot of ‘Firebird’ and took it along to compare minutely with the putative ‘Duchesse Decazes’. In this picture the flower on the right is from ‘Firebird’ and the two on the left from the supposed ‘Duchesse Decazes’.   Not ‘Duchesse Decazes’ any more. I could find no significant differences in either flowers or foliage so I believe that’s another error resolved.
Fire-Falls

In the same section is a plant labelled ‘Bonomiana’ which, when the whole section was being hard pruned in spring 2019 I asked to be spared as it had not flowered since its last hair cut and I hadn’t had an opportunity to verify it’s identity. Yesterday I spotted a few blooms opening. It appears to be identical to two plants elsewhere that are labelled ‘Tricolor Sieboldii’, a name that is a synonym for ‘Tricolor’ and which makes no sense whatever. It also appears to be identical to one in the English section 2A which is labelled ‘Alba Plena’. Unhelpfully there is another Camellia in 2A labelled ‘Alba Plena’ but it is clearly not the same.

There are quite a number of formal double white varieties around so I’m not optimistic about pinning this one down but it does have a few notable characteristics. The flowers are quite small, 7-8 cm across at most. They shatter very readily, more than once I tried to manipulate a flower into a better position for taking its picture only to have it disintegrate in a shower of petals. The growth habit is dense and very upright, the more so on young or heavily pruned plants. As far as the Mt Edgcumbe collection goes, it is the first formal double white to be flowering.

I was pleased to find flowers out on a couple of recent additions to the collection. ‘Dream Girl’ completes the trio of Girls raised by Howard Asper from sasanqua x reticulata crosses. It will be interesting to compare the performance of the three varieties in similar conditions.
Dream-Girl

The other one is a seedling I raised some years ago from open pollinated seed collected from C. reticulata ‘Mary Williams’. Most of the progeny were singles like the parent but a few produced semi-double flowers. The bloom has only just opened and will get bigger; the colour is a fairly fierce pink. When I first saw a flower on it I fancied there was the influence of something other than C. reticulata in it, presumably that pollen had been carried in from elsewhere, there being nothing in the immediate vicinity flowering at the same time. ‘Serendipity’ seemed an appropriate working name. I’ll give it a year or two to really get established before making a decision on whether to register it.
Serendipity-2

 

ID time

campsii-alba-2
I grow a camellia under the name Camellia japonica ‘Campsii Alba’. It is the same as one in Moyclare Garden in Liskeard that is known by the same name. It also matches two of the three plants under that name in the Mount Edgcumbe collection. (5B-004 & 5C-003)

The third plant in the collection (5D-004) is different but I think it is more likely to be the correctly named one, in spite of the weight of numbers. I am fairly certain that my plant and the two similar Mt Edgcumbe plants were propagated from the Moyclare plant.

The Camellia Register describes it thus:

“The flower is full, spherical, regular and formed like a perfect rosette. The colour is pure, milk white. The petals, disposed in 7-8 rows, are of average size, rounded, close set, regularly imbricated from the circumference to the centre. Very early flowering.”

It would be helpful if a size for the flower was given. My plant and its kin have been flowering since well before Christmas. The other plant does not flower so early, my pictures of it have been taken in April. Both forms have small, pure white flowers about 5-7cm across. The 5D-004 form is almost always a formal double showing no stamens in its centre but I have on just one occasion seen a fully open flower with some stamens at the centre. The Moyclare plant always has anemone form flowers.

 

The Moyclare plant is probably at least 50 years old and will have been planted by Moira Reid. It is about 4m tall and flowers freely every year over a period of up to three months. The leaves are quite small for a japonica, glossy and robust. It’s a very fine variety and I would love to identify it correctly.

campsii-alba-4

Camellia japonica ‘Campsii Alba’ (5D-004)