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Amongst the camellias found and introduced by Forrest is one that proved to be the wild type of this species, which has been represented in English gardens since 1820 by a lovely cultivated form of Chinese gardens, with rose-coloured, semi-double flowers, further discussed below. The wild type flowered in March 1932, at Caerhays, and from a specimen kindly given to me by Mr J. C. Williams, supplemented with Forrest’s wild material, the following description has been made.
An evergreen tree or shrub up to 35 ft high; young shoots greyish, glabrous; winter buds slender, 1⁄2 in. long. Leaves of leathery texture, elliptic or inclined to obovate, slenderly and often rather abruptly pointed, more or less tapered at the base, finely and regularly toothed; 2 to 41⁄2 in. long, 1 to 21⁄4 in. wide; dark dull green, net-veined and glabrous. Flowers solitary, of a rich soft rosy red, sub-terminal, 3 in. wide; petals five to eight; sepals roundish ovate, silky outside; stamens very numerous, 11⁄4 in. long, the outer ones united at the lower half to form a tube, inner ones free; anthers yellow; ovary and base of styles downy, the latter 11⁄4 in. long and united nearly to the top. While the plant described above had dull green noticeably veined leaves like the forms with semi-double and double flowers long known in cultivation, Forrest also introduced single-flowered forms with leaves dark rather shining green above and bright green below. Bot. Mag., t. 9397.
Native of Yunnan at altitudes of 6,000 to 9,000 ft. The broad elliptic, acute or shortly acuminate leaves, the large flower, and the velvety flower-bud scales distinguish this from all other species in cultivation. Some of the finer forms raised from Forrest’s seed have been given clonal names, notably ‘Mary Williams’, raised at Caerhays, and ‘Trewithen Pink’.
C. reticulata has been cultivated for many centuries by the Chinese and many distinct forms were evolved. Of these the first to be introduced was brought by Capt. Rawes of the East India Company in 1820, and is figured in Bot. Mag., t. 2784 (1827); the second importation was by J. D. Parks for the London Horticultural Society in 1824 and it was from this plant that Lindley described C. reticulata (Bot. Reg., t. 1078, 1827). The two introductions were very similar, both having beautiful semi-double, bright rose-coloured flowers about 6 in. across, but whether they are identical in the sense of being of the same clone is not certain. Mr Simmons, Assistant Curator of the Temperate Department at Kew, tells us that the old tree in the Temperate House, now about 23 ft high, may be of the Parks clone, but the evidence from the Kew Entry Books is not conclusive. The plate of Capt. Rawes’ plant shows a flower in which normal and petaloid stamens are intermixed, while in that of Parks’ plant all the stamens are normal; but the tree at Kew bears both types of flower on the same branch. Another early importation bears fully double flowers; it is known in gardens as ‘Robert Fortune’, but may already have been in cultivation when Fortune introduced it in 1843.
These early introductions came from gardens in the treaty ports. It was only quite recently that it became known that many other varieties of C. reticulata were to be found in gardens of cities deep in the interior of China, in the province of Yunnan. The story of the introduction of these from Kunming during the years 1948–50 is related by the late Ralph Peer in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 76, pp. 301–7. A complete set was presented by him to the Savill Gardens in 1956. For an account of the Kunming reticulatas see T. Yü, Camellias and Magnolias, 1950, and T. H. Findlay, Rhododendron and Camellia Year Book, 1964. Their hardiness is still untested, but the old clones and the wild forms although tender, survived the testing winters of 1961–3 as far east as Sussex in protected situations.
The date of introduction of 1843 given for ‘Robert Fortune’ is incorrect. Fortune sent it to Standish and Noble during his second expedition to China (1848 to early 1851). Its Chinese name is ‘Songzilin’, meaning ‘pine-cone’ or ‘pine-cone scale’, from the resemblance of the flower to that of an opened pine-cone. The earlier importation, ‘Capt. Rawes’, is now unknown to Chinese gardeners – or was until recently reintroduced from the USA.
The last importation of Yunnan cultivars mentioned on page 484 was the late Ralph Peer’s batch of 1952. Others have been introduced since and there are more to come (see Macoboy, op. cit., pp. 146–7).
The most valuable of the hybrids of C. reticulata also have C. saluenensis in their parentage, directly or through C. × williamsii, and are mentioned below under the latter.
Many hybrids between C. reticulata (mostly the new importations from Kunming) and C. japonica have been raised in America, but the Japanese species does not have as much ability as C. saluenensis to mitigate the tenderness of C. reticulata. So far as gardens outside the milder parts are concerned, the most promising at the moment (1984) is ‘Royalty’, with bright red, semi-double flowers about 51⁄2 in. across, which is at any rate very suitable for training on a sunny wall. It is the result of a cross between a Japonica cultivar and ‘Buddha’, a hybrid between C. reticulata and C. pitardii var. yunnanica, which was raised at Kunming and imported to the Descanso gardens as an unnamed and unflowered seedling.
C. ‘Barbara Hillier’ originated as a seedling at Embley park, near Romsey, Hants, for which the parentage C. reticulata × C. japonica has been suggested. It has large, single, satin-pink flowers. This clone is now usually placed under C. heterophylla Hu, for which the same parentage has been tentatively put forward (see Rhod. Cam. Year Book No. 13 (1959), pp. 132–3 and Sealy, Revision, pp. 180, 231). C. heterophylla is a clone of Yunnan gardens and is figured in Journ. R.H.S. Vol. 63, fig. 103 (see also ibid., Vol. 76, p. 306). However, Chang includes it in C. reticulata, so the correctness of C. × heterophylla as a collective designation for C. reticulata × C. japonica is doubtful.
C. reticulata has been crossed with C. sasanqua, but the available hybrids are winter-flowering and so not suitable for general planting. Surprisingly, ‘Felice Harris’, from a cross between C. sasanqua ‘Narumigata’ and C. ‘Buddha’ (see above), does not open its flowers until early spring at about the same time as most forms of C. × williamsii. They are medium-sized, semi-double, pink shading to warm white.
The camellia of Japanese gardens originally given botanical status as C. reticulata var. wabiske (Makino) Makino was later given specific rank as C. wabiske (Makino) Kitamura. It is one of a group of probable hybrids known as the Wabisuke camellias, and it has been suggested that C. sinensis, the tea-plant, enters into their parentage.
Although recognised as a species by Chang, C. uraku Kitamura may also be of hybrid origin. This too is a camellia of Japanese gardens, originally considered to belong to C. reticulata as var. rosea (Makino) Makino.
C. pittardii – The var. yunnanica has been used for hybridising in the USA. Crossed with a cultivar of C. japonica it has produced ‘El Dorado’, which is in commerce in Britain and proving satisfactory. It has light pink, paeony-form flowers.