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Japonica or williamsii hybrid - which Camellia to choose
Last Updated: 12/02/2015
What’s in a name - Camellia japonica or Camellia x williamsii?
This Camellia species occurs naturally across large areas of south-eastern Asia, including parts of China, and Korea but particularly in Japan, hence the name. Over many hundreds of years the plants were cultivated in both Japan and China, often grown around temples, and different flower colours and forms were selected from the wild plants and propagated. In the early 1800’s European traders began to bring some of these varieties back to the West, where plant nurseries across Europe continued to cross different varieties to produce an even greater range of flowers. The vast majority of camellias grown in gardens around the world today are forms of Camellia japonica derived by breeding from the wild form.
Camellia x williamsii
In the early years of the 20 th Century plant hunters brought thousands of new plants back to Europe from the East, amongst which was another Camellia species, Camellia saluenensis, which in the wild produces an abundance of single flowers ranging in colour from pink through to white. Seeds of C.saluenensis were given to a number of plant enthusiasts, including J.C.Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall, and Col. Stephenson Clarke of Borde Hill in Sussex, both of whom grew plants which they then used to cross-breed with various forms of C. japonica. The resulting hybrids were found to have great merit as garden plants and were named as williamsii hybrids in recognition of the work carried out by J.C.Williams. The ‘x’ in the name Camellia x williamsii indicates that the plant is a hybrid of two distinct species, in this case Camellia japonica and Camellia saluenensis.
Which to choose?
Both japonicas and williamsii hybrids have their merits. Japonica varieties are much more numerous, so there is a far greater choice of flower colour and form than for the williamsii hybrids, and they are also just as hardy. We often get requests for williamsii hybrids because customers have heard that they are hardy, but in fact their winter hardiness comes from their japonica parentage. The real advantage of the hybrids is that they will generally flower well with lower light levels than japonicas, so they are particularly suited to a gloomy northern European climate, and are always recommended for a shady location.
The table below summarises the pros and cons of each: