Our winner in the white camellia stakes – C. yuhsienensis

Camellia yuhsienensis

The world of white camellias is quite heavily populated, especially if you narrow it down to white species camellias. Over time, we have gathered up most of the species that have been available to us, and very lovely many of them are. But the one we have singled out as the most attractive specimen plant is Camellia yuhsienensis.

You can tell how much we love this plant by the fact that we have chosen to use it as a feature plant. I just counted and found we have no fewer than seventeen of them as specimen plants, each sitting in its own space – not hedged or jammed in with other plants. It is not usually our style to repeat a single cultivar like that. Mark threaded it through the new gardens – the grass garden and the lily border – to give winter interest.

Threaded through the lily border to give winter interest. That is visible frost this morning. And a freshly dug rabbit scrape. The rabbits are still winning here. We may yet have to get a cat again, given our dogs are pretty useless on the rabbits.

What do we love about it so much? It has handsome, bullate (textured) foliage which is not the usual shiny green associated with japonica camellias. It sets an abundance of buds in pointed clusters and opens them over a long period of time. But it is the flowers that are the real delight – pristine, white single blooms, good-sized and looking more like michelia or magnolia than classic camellia. And it holds its blooms well out from its leaves and branches. The blooms are not substantial but that can be an advantage in a camellia, especially when there is a long succession of fresh blooms waiting to take over. It is just a delight to us.

Some reports mention an overwhelming fragrance but we think that either that claim is exaggerated, the Chinese have greatly sensitised nasal capacities or the clone we grow here didn’t get much fragrance. It is really only lightly scented and that requires sticking one’s nose right up to the bloom. Nothing, alas, is perfect and we need to give the bushes an occasional shake or brush to get rid of spent blooms because they don’t always fall cleanly.

For NZ camellia purists, we grow the mounding selection chosen by Neville Haydon, back in his days at Camellia Haven

The native habitat of C. yuhsienensis is in the Hunan area of China which is, loosely speaking, southern(ish) and inland, with mountains, so it is not a tropical area. We have found it to be completely hardy in our conditions, although our winters are hardly testing. Because it is a species, plants raised from seed will show species variation. We started with two forms but always vegetatively propagated them to keep the selections stable. We had an upright columnar form but ended up cutting it out because the foliage and flowering were nowhere near as good as the mounding form we kept.

The bad news is that I doubt that it is commercially available these days in NZ so you will have to search hard to find one. I have to say that because it is disconcerting to me how many people read these posts and assume they are commercially driven and we must therefore be selling the plant and can send them one. Um, no. I write these posts because I am a writer by nature, we love gardening and it is greatly rewarding how many readers share this pleasure. I appreciate the comments. The phone calls and emails trying to order plants from us – not so much.


And just because I took a nice photo of it this week, I close with Superstar. It grows at least four times the size as C. yuhsienensis, probably with a quarter of the flowers, if that, but it can show a lovely bloom. It is hard to beat a beautiful white camellia on its day.

17 thoughts on “Our winner in the white camellia stakes – C. yuhsienensis

  1. Mark Boyd

    I have always loved this Camellia as I have admired it many times in the Auckland Botanic Gardens. There it is also labelled C. Grijsii. And now I’m none the wiser where to buy 1 !!!.

    Changing the subject slightly I recently read an article on yellow camellias which I think you wrote. At the gardens they have a beauty called C.flava which I don’t believe you mentioned.

    Regards Mark ________________________________

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Grijsii is very different – much smaller leafed and tiny blooms, from memory. We used to grow it commercially. If it looks like yuhsienensis, then it ain’t grijsii! I have seen the odd labelling error there on my visits.
      We were offered flava recently but declined. We have about 8 different yellow species, though the ones from Vonnie Cave have yet to flower for us. Flava may be amongst those from Vonnie, but in the end, they all have beautiful foliage and small cup-shaped yellow flowers. We felt we had enough of them!

  2. Mark Boyd

    It has both names on the label, but I’m sure you are correct. Yes Flava does have beautiful foliage. Wouldn’t mind getting it. Can you reveal your source?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Private contact, sorry. But we are not talking a plant – just a scion. If you have the capability to graft camellias and suitable stock available, I would think Auckland Bot would give you a few scions to try.

  3. tonytomeo

    There are only two specimens of Camellia yuhsienensis out with our stock plants, but they were never copied. I think that we should grow a few more just in case anything happens to the two originals, and maybe to get a few for the members of the Camellia Society., although I would not want to put them into production. They were sent by Mr. Oliver because his collection is so crowded. By the time he passed away, his colleagues were too elderly to take on all of his collection, so instead of sending what we had away, we acquired a little bit more. I hate to think of plants such as these just waiting to be discovered out on the farm. I would like to get a few more into other collections and gardens, even if only in parks and such.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes. More a collector’s item than a commercial line. And not to everybody’s taste. We used to graft it so it must have been unreliable from cuttings.

      1. tonytomeo

        I did not consider how easy it would be to grow them from cutting. We have not produced any yet. That could be a problem.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        The propagator here (alias the man to whom I am married) says that the clone we have does not root easily from cutting, though it can be done – just a low percentage take – but you will have a different clone that may root more easily. Or raise seed.

      3. tonytomeo

        I do not mind if most do not survive. I mean, if ten percent take root, that would be five rooted cuttings from each flat of fifty (49). If I want only a dozen plants, I do not mind sticking three flats to do so. It is not like I want to make a habit of it. I only want enough to share with those who want and appreciate it; and can let them worry about propagating more later. I really do not have the patience for seed. I do not know what the cultivar it is, or if it came from there. The poor plants were potted for several years before being released into the arboretum here.

      4. Abbie Jury Post author

        It is indeed a worthwhile activity to ensure that these plant species are distributed. A friend gave us scion wood of C. amplexicaulis recently, which we were very pleased to receive.

      5. tonytomeo

        A few years ago, it seemed like all the crazy old horticulturists would keep these things going. Now that they are gone, I can not bear to see what remains of their collections that did not get dispersed just deteriorating! Mr. Oliver tried to popularize your Michellia doltsopa years ago. I really did not like growing them, especially when we could not sell them! Now that I see those trees out in the medians of the Oregon Expressway, it makes me angry that they did not go into a park where people could appreciate them and want to grow them in their own gardens. I think it would make me less angry if I could not see them at all than to see them out there.

  4. sarahnorling2014

    Oh Abbie. Two-thirds of the way through this article I had already worked out all the places where I would be planting Camellia yuhsienensis! Then I got to the end and my dreams were snatched away….

Comments are closed.