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.
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.
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.
‘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.