Camellia sasanqua 'Hana Jiman' (picture courtesy: Dinny White)
Crossing plants is certainly a fine craft and more so when it comes to Camellias. London Town was extremely fortunate to have Dr. William Ackerman use London Town woodland gardens as a test site for his crosses. Seed propagation, vegetative propagation (cuttings/air-layering) has its own value but to get finer more specific traits, controlled crossing- hybridizing is the best method.
Camellia 'Pink icicle' (Camellia x williamsii 'November Pink' x Camellia oleifera) (Picture courtesy, Dinny White)
Hybridizing of species is usually done to create an enhanced variety of plant that shows finer traits than its parent plant. In agriculture, crossing is mostly done for improved yield and commercial value of a crop. Now species can be crossed within the same genus, called - interspecific hybridizing (eg. Camellia oleifera x Camellia sasanqua) or crossing can be done with two different genus- intregeneric hybridizing. For eg., some of Dr. Ackerman amazing work includes: crossing Franklinia sps. and Camellia sps.
Camellia japonica 'Herme' (Picture courtesy, Dinny White)
Let's have a look at some of the key cold hardy crosses done by Dr. Ackerman that are excelling in the trade. The brutal winters in the late 1970's killed many Camellias with only some spring flowering C. japonica surviving and some fall blooming C. sasanqua and C. hiemalis. Later C. oleifera came into highlight when the urgent need for cold hardy varieties was realized in early 1980's.The two varieties that proved to be most cold tolerant and superior parents for crossing were 'Lu Shan Snow' and 'Plain Jane'.
Camellia oleifera 'Lu Shan Snow' (Picture courtesy, Dinny White)
Cross 2: The highest yield of viable plants was observed between interspecific crosses between C. oleifera and C. sasanqua. C. oleifera being a variety with higher cold tolerance it was used as one of the parents with many different varieties. An excellent example at London Town is: 'Pink Icicle': Camellia x williamsii 'November Pink' x Camellia oleifera. Note that C. x williamsii itself is a hybrid of C. japonica and C. saluenensis.
Camellia 'Winter's Peony' (C. oleifera 'Plain Jane' x C. sasanqua 'Narumi-gata' x C. hiemalis 'Shishi-gashira') (Picture courtesy, Dinny White)
A superb example of crossing 3 species is another London Town specialty: 'Winter's Peony': it is a combination of three parents C. oleifera 'Plain Jane' x C. sasanqua 'Narumi-gata' x C. hiemalis 'Shishi-gashira'.
Camellia 'Winter's Star' (C. oleifera 'Lu Shan Snow' x C. hiemalis 'Showa-no-sakae')
Crossing species involves countless hours worth of work with an anticipation and waiting for long periods of which parent will be the dominant one. According to Dr. Ackerman is his book 'Beyond the Camellia belt', he mentions that you do not have to be a professional breeder to conduct your own experiments. However, one needs specific goals. He mentions that "three goals that have had a degree of success over the past several decades are the search of floral fragrance, greater cold hardiness and yellow flower color".
Controlled crossing of Camellias has been ongoing on for years, but if you want to see some of the parents of the cold hardy varieties, a trek down the Camellia trail at London Town will take you up close to the fall and spring blooming parents. Follow us for more pictures and crossing information on Camellias, soon..