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’

Little things

As a blogger I feel I should be producing output on a fairly regular basis, but also that I should keep quiet until I have something to say. Real life doesn’t always work like that and my dealings with camellias consist of a constant trickle of trivia around which I would struggle to construct any sort of coherent narrative.

Take last Tuesday for example. I headed up to Mt Edgcumbe as usual and spent a good deal of the day going around taking photos. I do this even though I have many pictures of most of the plants in the collection because I want to build up a picture of how the flowers vary from one season to another. I also have a better camera than I had when I started, so I hope to get better pictures than I already have.

There are also still quite a number of plants in the collection that I have yet to see flower. Some were pruned hard just before I turned up to photograph them. The time it takes for a plant to get back to flowering varies from no time at all to five years or more. It depends on the variety, the severity of pruning, the location of the plant, follow up thinning of regrowth, the weather and probably several other things as well.

On Tuesday I took photos of two plants I had not seen flower before. In Section 4D is a plant labelled ‘Barbara Mary’, pruned some years ago and with a few buds this season. I took a picture of a small and squiffy flower then noticed a much better one at the top of the bush. Sometimes the only way to get a picture is to cut the shoot off, in this case I was able to pull it down and hold it in a reasonably natural position to take the picture.

Camellia japonica 'Barbara Mary'

Camellia japonica ‘Barbara Mary’ (4E-024)

When I got home I looked up the Register entry for this variety which describes it as “Colour blush pink. A large, peony form flower with a delicate scent. Early to mid-season blooming.” The blush pink bit seems correct and perhaps it will develop into a peony form as it opens more. I seldom think to check for scent, so few have any.

In Macaboy’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Camellias he echoes the blush-pink peony form description but has a picture of a semi-double, almost anemone-form flower that I would describe as light red.

There are pictures on Camellias.pics and the colour is a good match but not the form, at least so far. Camellias Australia have a picture on Flikr which is similar; right colour, wrong form.

It is common, the norm even, for camellia blooms in the relatively cool climate of the UK to differ from blooms of the same variety in a hotter climate. In general there is a greater tendency for stamens to develop into petaloids or petals in a cool climate. Blooms become more double, with less stamens at the centre; they may take several days to open fully to the point where stamens are visible, fooling you into thinking they are not going to have any.

So I will revisit the same bloom next Tuesday and see whether it has become peony form. If it has I will be reasonably satisfied that it is what the label says it is.

The other “new” flowerer was in European Section 5A. This is one of the oldest sections and a lot of the plants were pruned several years ago. Most have now flowered again but they are back to the size they were before and are denser than ever. They will need to be pruned again soon. There is a plant with no label that on the plan is marked as ‘Tricolor’. It is now in flower and appears to be the same as ‘Tricolor Siebold’ at 5B-026. It has a small to medium, white formal double bloom on a very upright bush.

‘Tricolor Siebold’ is a synonym for ‘Tricolor’ so I know this is wrong, even allowing for the variability of the flowers of ‘Tricolor’, several forms of which have been named. The foliage is quite different and that clinches it for me. What I now have to attempt is to put the right name to it. It is similar in flower and growth habit to a plant in Section 2A labelled ‘Alba Plena’ so I shall start by comparing it very closely with that.

There are very many formal double white camellias. I can go through my books but there is no way I can identify my unknown variety from a single picture with no foliage, little indication of size, nothing about growth habit, nothing about whether it was ever grown in this country.Camellia japonica 'Tricolor'

Of course the reverse is also true. You may be looking at my picture, thinking it looks very like an unidentified plant that you have and wishing that I’d put up 10 pictures of blooms, their size, some foliage, its size, and so on. To which I would say that the only way you could be sure enough that yours was the same as mine would be to cut a piece of yours and take it to the plant that I had illustrated and compare every possible detail.

It’s the only way I know to get from “I think it might be” to “I’m very nearly certain it is”. I’m not sure it is possible to get to “I’m absolutely certain it is” unless you can prove that it was propagated from the original plant of a variety.