Dynasties

For several weeks I have been putting the records of the Mt. Edgcumbe camellia collection onto the online database system that Plant Heritage use. It has meant I have been revisiting issues that came up when I first became involved with the collection but had set aside because I was getting nowhere.

I was putting in the data for Area 1L this morning and came across the two plants of Camellia ‘Empire Rose’. The plant labels both say Camellia hybrid ‘Empire Rose’ but I’ve always thought of it as a japonica. Both flower and leaf seem more consistent with it being a japonica than anything else. Entering the record involves checking with the RHS database to see if the name is on there and if so, whether it is the same as I have it for the collection accession. I checked and found ‘Empire Rose’ given as a x williamsii variety.

Back to the Register I went, to see if its parentage was given, which it was, as C. japonica ‘Kimberley’ x C. x williamsii ‘Rendezvous’. I looked up ‘Rendezvous’ to find it was a hybrid of C. x williamsii ‘Joyful Bells’ and C. japonica ‘Australis’. On then to ‘Joyful Bells’, which is C. saluenensis x C. japonica ‘Fuyajo’. So while ‘Empire Rose’ has in its parentage both saluenensis and japonica, and nothing else, making it a legitimate x williamsii hybrid, the saluenensis fraction is one eighth, to seven eighths japonica.

It seems to me slightly ridiculous that it still qualifies as a x williamsii and if ‘Empire Rose’ was back crossed with japonica for another couple of generations, with the progeny then having only 1/32nd saluenensis in their blood, it would seem totally ridiculous.

Empire-Rose

Camellia x williamsii ‘Empire Rose’

Also in Area 1L is a plant labelled Camellia japonica ‘Cinderella’. It has flowers of two sorts, fimbriated and not fimbriated, but both in a plain light scarlet colour.

The fimbriated version is ‘Fred Sander’ and the simpler bloom belongs to ‘Lady de Saumerez’. ‘Fred Sander’ is a sport from ‘Lady de Saumerez’ and is quite unstable so reversion is not unusual. Interestingly, the extra tissue in the flowers of ‘Fred Sander’ means that the buds are larger and show colour much earlier than the buds of ‘Lady de Saumerez’, but then seem reluctant to open, doing so well after ‘Lady de Saumerez’.

‘Cinderella’ is a sport of ‘Fred Sander’ which has bicolored flowers, another unstable characteristic, so it readily sports bicolored but non fimbriated flowers or solid coloured fimbriated flowers. This is what it should look like.

Cinderella

‘Cinderella’

Two sports of ‘Cinderalla’ have been named, ‘Robert Strauss’ and ‘Raspberry Ice’. In ‘Robert Strauss’ the fimbriation is gone and the pink and white have become the body and the edge of the petals respectively. ‘Raspberry Ice’ is said to be very similar.

1N-064-Robert-Strauss

‘Robert Strauss’

‘Lady de Saumerez’ is a solid pink sport of ‘Tricolor’, an old Japanese variety brought to Europe in 1829 by Dr Frans von Siebold. The Japanese name for it is ‘Ezo-nishiki’. It has also produced a fimbriated sport directly, without ‘Lady de Saumerez’ as an intermediary, which is called ‘Dainty’ (California). Like ‘Cinderella’ it’s blooms are bicolored and fimbriated, but the petals are not twisted and crumpled as they are in ‘Cinderalla’. It is just as unstable and produces a mix of fimbriated and non fimbriated blooms most of which are red striped on a white ground, with some solid red and pure white flowers thrown in.

There are other names on the family tree, some of them variegated by dint of virus infection like ‘Lady MacKinnon’ as distinct from the genetic variegation of ‘Tricolor’ and all the bicolors mentioned here. The whole tribe though is a product of mutations rather than reproduction through seed. The genetics underpinning stripey flowers is intriguing and I cannot pretend to really understand it. If you want to know more you need to look up “jumping genes” or transposable elements, and check out the Nobel Prize winning cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock. Fascinating stuff.

Tricolor

Camellia japonica ‘Tricolor’

Change of plan

Not that I had much of a plan when I went up to Mount Edgcumbe this morning. I was going to number the plants in section 5B, see what was flowering and take some photos and get pictures of the labels I’d attached last week.

That’s not what happened. They have a group of young German landscape students over for a couple of weeks and today was given over to introducing some of them to the Camellia collection and getting their help to carry out some fairly drastic pruning.

Section 5A contains European varieties, mostly quite old. It is one of the oldest sections of the collection, probably planted in the 1980’s, and it is on a very steep bank along one side of the Earl’s Drive. The steep slope emphasises the height of the bushes, which were mostly 10-12 feet tall, and because you are looking up at them with a background of sky through the still bare branches of the trees, the flowers are not shown off at all well. Nor is it possible to see anything but the path facing side of the first row of plants.

The majority of the plants in this section were cut to 5-6 feet about ten years ago and I should think are now back to about the same height as when they were cut. No thinning or shortening of the regrowth was carried out so they are much denser than they would have been before cutting. Indeed the contrast between the bushes that had been pruned and the ones that hadn’t was quite stark, the latter having grown rather lanky with sparse foliage.

Most have been cut back to just above where they were cut a decade ago, which usually involved cutting around six strongly vertical shoots that had grown up from just below the earlier pruning cut. The plan now is to thin and shorten the regrowth in the hope that the bushes can be brought back into flowering without getting either as big or as dense again.

The challenge with that is that most of today’s pruning was done standing on the very steep ground and using loppers to make cuts almost at full stretch. In some cases I climbed into the bush to reach. Thus pruning the regrowth is going to need tools to reach a metre or more above my head.

The effect is brutal and several park visitors voiced their concerns. Hopefully by the end of the summer it will look very different. It already looks much lighter and far less overbearing and the glimpses of background between the bushes is a big improvement.
The unpruned bush in the picture has still not flowered since it was last pruned; it was one of the smaller bushes in the section but shows how dense the growth had been.


At the end of a full on day I made my way back to the carpark and was moved to stop and take pictures a few times on the way.

Camellia japonica ‘Fred Sander’ is a fimbriated sport of ‘Lady de Saumerez’, which is to say it has raggedy edges to very twisted petals. ‘Lady de Saumerez’ is a solid pink sport of ‘Tricolor’. ‘Fred Sander’ doesn’t seem to produce buds that are big enough to contain the petals and they are showing the coloured tips of the petals by the turn of the year or earlier, long before ‘Lady de Saumerez’. However, the buds are very slow to open and ‘Lady de Saumerez’ has all but finished flowering before ‘Fred Sander’ gets going. Sadly, because Fred has had the edges of his petals exposed for so long, they are very likely to have been frosted, as in this picture.
Fred-Sander

Further on I dug my camera out again for Camellia japonica ‘William Honey’. This will have been one of the earliest varieties in the collection but the original plant has gone and this is now the only one. At 8-10cm across the blooms are bigger than quite a few of the pink striped varieties and the mix of petaloids and stamens in the middle adds interest.
William-Honey

I bagged one more before I headed home for a cup of tea. Camellia x williamsii ‘Olga Carlyon’ is not in the Camellia Register so was presumably never registered. It was labelled ‘Rosemary Sawle’ and has only recently been re-labelled correctly. It has a loose, informal feel about it, combined with a delicate pink colour; I like it very much.
Olga-Carlyon