Identifying Camellias

Identifying camellias is never easy. To begin with there are so many of them and no individual is likely to have ever seen more than a fraction of them. They are variable, especially in floral characteristics, from one season to another, from one part of the world to another, from one end of the season to the other. The number of petals, degree to which stamens become petaloid, size, colour, flowering time; all are fluid characteristics.

Some varieties are widely grown, very many more are very seldom seen. Varieties that have never been available from a nursery in a country turn up because an individual has imported one, or has brought back an illicit cutting.

Both nurseries and individuals get names wrong. Garden retailers trust their suppliers to get names right but errors are made. Cuttings are taken from garden plants, very few of which have labels on them, the accuracy of the name being dependent on the memory of its owner.

Even in the UK some varieties set seed which may give rise to worthwhile new varieties. Some of these will never be named, or the given name not registered. Almost always they will be almost identical to something already in existence, probably unbeknown to the raiser.

It is not unlikely that when several seedlings have been raised from a particular cross that more than one of the similar seedlings gets distributed under the same name. Mutations are very common in camellias and if not picked up on by a propagator may lead to a novelty being sold under its “parental” name.

I am often asked to put a name to a camellia. Given time to compare it to my photo library I can sometimes narrow it down to one or two possibles. Almost never am I certain of an identity. If someone takes a quick look at a camellia bloom and pronounces it to be such and such, they probably don’t know very much about camellias. If they knew more they would be much more circumspect.