Summer flowering camellias ? A cloak and dagger story
Last Updated: 26/10/2014
Do you dream of having camellia flowers in the garden all year round ? Yes ? Or maybe not !
Its one of those challenges that plant breeders just love to face and we must admit that its also one of those situations where its quite satisfying to achieve something a bit out of the ordinary. Now it’s beginning to look possible.
Down in the tropical far south of the province of Guangxi in China a Chinese botanist who was actually looking for palm trees noticed a flash of red on some bushes nearby, thought they were azaleas or rhododendrons, picked a sprig and took it back to show Professor Chang, a noted ‘world’ botanical expert on these things. He confirmed that it was in fact an undiscovered new camellia species, and promptly handed it over to his wife who was in charge of the herbarium where it was duly dried and pressed to conserve it and its details recorded with all the information required for botanical registration. It was all very exciting as this was a brand new species that was significantly different to any other camellia. The find was published in a Chinese botanical publication and given the name Camellia changii in honour of Professor Chang.
They realized the significance of the find and collected their own samples. To cut a long story short their institution recorded the camellia as ‘Camellia azalea’ in a different botanical publication. This was an internationally recognized publication and, sadly for the original finders had precedence over their registration. Since then a battle has quietly raged with those of us who support Professor Chang and his team feeling a little sore and sad for them, but helpless as we see Camellia azalea being extolled around the world.
So what is all the fuss about ? Well, this camellia has leaves that are narrow and quite thick, looking like those of many azaleas, bushes are dense and rounded and the flowers are simple with 5-9 distinct rose/pink petals. Unlike most camellias this species produces blooms at every season. There are two peaks, one in late summer and the other in spring, with smaller flushes of flowers in between.
Their first and major problem is that they are dealing with a tropical/sub tropical species that is (a) not hardy and (b) needs hot conditions to form and develop its flower buds. The ‘chrysanthemum boys’, ( Searle and Machin), used artificial lights and blackout cloth to manipulate the hours of daylight and darkness to achieve their success to get the balance between growth and flowering. I’m sure the camellia scientists will work out their own methods to manipulate the natural tendencies of these hybrids to achieve the commercial success that is the star on the horizon.
Professor Gao, another doyenne of the Chinese camellia world, visited Trehane nursery in 2008 and swept up a collection of plants of hardy, free flowering varieties to take back for his work. He is a good friend so I don’t mind telling you that he had to be restrained as he was found in areas where some of our own new varieties are in short supply and not yet ready for sale ! He collected from other sources too and has produced a number of hybrids from this union of C. azalea and these hardy camellias, that are now under trial and assessment and being gradually introduced in China.
Trehane Nursery is on the list to receive some plants to try out. Lorraine and Simon, who do such a good job looking after the nursery can look forward to having these ‘new babies’ to look after but we don’t know their arrival time--- yet.
©Jennifer Trehane. 25/10/2014.
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