Camellia lutchuensis and its hybrids.

I took a spray from a camellia I grow called ‘Koto-no-kaori’ to the HPS meeting yesterday evening and it really got people’s attention. A single pink, with 5-6cm flowers clustered along the stems, and with a sweet fragrance. It also has small leaves and a thin twigged, not too stiff habit of growth. In short, what’s not to love about it?

It is a hybrid of C. japonica ‘Tōkai x C. lutchuensis, raised in Japan by Kaoru Hagiya and named by Tokuji Ōoka in 1977. The name means “Perfume of Ancient Capitol”, which implies that ancient Japanese cities smelt rather sweeter than ancient UK cities. It is quite a strong grower and is 2m tall after around ten years, even after some light pruning.

It is one of six camellia varieties that I grow which have C. lutchuensis in their parentage, all of them spring flowering and scented. I also have a plant of the species itself.

‘Minato-no-akebono’ is from the cross C. lutchuensis x C. japonica ‘Kantō-hanimiguruma’, originated and released in Japan by Masaomi Murata in 1981. It has a profusion of small, pale pink, single flowers with six petals, 5-6cm wide. They are produced here often from early December until March or April. They have a sweet perfume that can carry on the air for several metres. The new growth also often starts very early, making it a little vulnerable to frosts, and is reddish in colour.

Camellia ‘Minato-no-akebono’ = Harbour at Dawn.

‘Quintessence’ was raised in New Zealand from a cross between C. japonica Fendig’s Seedling No.12 x C. lutchuensis and first bloomed in 1980. It is low growing and slow, with a generous show of flower in January to March. The 6-7cm blooms are white with a pink blush at the edges and have a light, sweet and spicy fragrance. I have it growing on a raised bed right beside my garden seat, not that I have much occasion to sit on it between January and March.

Sweet Emily Kate’ flowers a little later and at the time of writing is still in tight bud. Its growth habit is prostrate and very slow, and the flowers, when they open, are light pink, paler in the centre. They are fully double and around 7cm across.

‘Cinnamon Scentsation’ arose as a sport on ‘Cinnamon Cindy’, a variety raised by Dr William Ackerman in the USA from a cross of C. japonica ‘Ken’yōtai’ x C. lutchuensis. ‘Cinnamon Cindy’ has small double blooms but ‘Cinnamon Scentsation’ has slightly larger (6-7cm) single blooms with a stronger perfume. My plant is still in a pot in the greenhouse, filling it with fragrance. It seems to be very floriferous over a longish period.

‘Fairy Blush’ was a product of the prolific Jury family in New Zealand. Again, my young plant is still in its pot and has been flowering for several weeks in the greenhouse, producing a succession of 5-6cm. pink blushed, white flowers with good fragrance. Its small leaves and slender hairy stems suggest it will make a graceful and refined plant in time.

Camellia lutchuensis itself is an attractive species, somewhat similar to C. transnokoensis in appearance. It has fine upright stems and very small leaves, amongst which are borne clusters of 3-4cm white flowers with a sweet fragrance. I plan to keep it in a pot for the time being and to bring it under cover in cold winter weather. As with all camellias, the root system will be the first casualty of a freeze but in this case I’m not wholly confident of the top-growth surviving sub-zero temperatures unscathed. I’d be only too happy to be told I’m wrong.

Camellia lutchuensis

From my experience to date, if I had to choose one it would be ‘Koto-no-kaori’ but given how limited my experience with most of them, that’s probably unfair. I would be confident that given appropriate conditions, all of them would be wonderful plants to have in the garden. There seems little doubt that current taste is away from the big blowsy varieties and toward the more subtle, natural looking varieties and all of these fit with that aim. Fragrance is always welcome in a garden plant and is not common among hardy camellias, with the exception of the autumn flowering sasanquas, many of which, while not malodorous, are odorous rather than perfumed.

There are other lutchuensis hybrids around, ‘Cinnamon Cindy’ I have already mentioned; ‘Scentuous’ is still on my wanted list. There are also other scented Camellias, like the species C. grijsii and the cultivar ‘Ariel’s Song’. None is what most people first think of when they consider camellias; dare I say it, they are the sort of thing that make people who are convinced they don’t like camellias reconsider their prejudices. That’s always a good thing.

4 thoughts on “Camellia lutchuensis and its hybrids.

  1. Harbour at dawn is very beautiful. I read about a 200 year old camellia collection uncovered at Wentworth Woodhouse nr Rotherham where only 3 out of 19 camellias have been identified. I wondered whether you was involved in the identification. wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk

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    1. I have been sent pictures of a couple of them, not that I was much help. I have my own set of 19 at Mount Edgcumbe, allegedly planted in the “early 19C, which could make them 180 years old or more. Planted outdoors on what was then a bare headland overlooking the breakwater in Plymouth Sound. I’m taking a few blooms of one of them to the spring show at Rosemoor tomorrow in the vain hope someone will recognize it.

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