Christening Camellias

When a plantsman has developed a new Camellia and feels certain it is a variety never seen before, that person is compelled to name the plant with a distinguished moniker that will forever describe it.

While walking long, oyster shell paths among mature and stately camellias this past week end, I saw a few labels, but most of the older specimens were a mystery to me. I came back to my study and reviewed my photos and compared some of the blooms against those in older books on camellias. One such book, CAMELLIAS by G.G Gerbing, printed in 1950, is very helpful. Many of the mature camellias found in the Savannah area might have been planted in the 20th century and can be identified using these older books. Some are no longer easily available in modern day nurseries.

The author wags a finger and rightly so – “Another deporable trick, to be chalked up against visitors to Camellia gardens and nurseries, is the habit of taking cuttings from rare varieties while the owner is looking the other way.”

I feel that thievery is beyond reproach, and I was surprised many years ago, when an otherwise quite proper garden club lady proudly gave me a peak into her purse. She had the tools of a practiced garden thief – sharp scissors, plastic bags with moistened paper towels and labels for identification. I was appalled, and wondered how she would feel if a like minded thief visited her noteworthy garden with similar intentions!

One thing I admit to on my garden walks is taking way too many photographs. So, I have devised a method to be able to recall the name of the plant if available. First I take the photo of the bloom with some foliage included.

And then immediately following, I take a photo of it’s corresponding label.

Camellia japonica ‘Silver Wings’

Another interesting section in this book dealt with confusion in Camellia Nomenclature. This goes back to naming a camellia. Apparently there have been some shady nurserymen who will give a different name to a camellia, all in the name of a good sale. Mr. Gerbing named some camellias that have been given more than one name. I was surprised to find a camellia that I just planted last week, Camellia japonica ‘Debutante’ on the list! Apparently there is an identical camellia to be found with the name Sara C. Hastie. So, who is the culprit there? A fashionable lady who dabbled in propagating new camellia varieties? Or some nurseryman of bad repute who lost the label, and just gave the plant the name he liked? It is fun to speculate and wonder about the origins of old camellias.

This is it – 2021 camellias are blooming! Not slowed by a pandemic; they bloom brightly to cheer all those who take a look.


About Jayne in Georgia

Wife, mother, and owner of pets much loved. Gardener of three decades, amateur photographer, ardent about art, antiques and books.
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2 Responses to Christening Camellias

  1. Camellias are one of my Southern favorites. Names do seem to change a lot over the years and I’m glad it is not my job to identify plants.


  2. Anna Warm says:

    I never knew there was such intrigue in the camellia world. There may be a mystery novel in this…


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