Tag Archives: camellia petal blight

Camellia Diary 5, August 29, 2010

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Dainty little camellia species minutiflora

Dainty little camellia species minutiflora

The reticulatas, in this case Glowing Embers, are good value in the garden, despite the ravages of petal blight

The reticulatas, in this case Glowing Embers, are good value in the garden, despite the ravages of petal blight

In years gone by (that is, in days pre-dating rampant camellia petal blight), now would be the time when we would be enjoying mass flowering in the japonica camellias. That has gone. But the reticulata camellias have come into their own. Because most are red, petal blight does not show up as badly and with such huge blooms, the spoiled flowers fall cleanly to the ground. And they still mass flower for us, even if we measure their flowering season in weeks, not months. Reticulatas have become hard to source these days. Few grow on their own roots so they have to be grafted and in this day and age, that is a skill which has all but died out. Most buyers can’t tell the difference between a grafted plant and one which can be mass produced with little skill and great ease so they don’t understand why the former plant should be so much more expensive than the latter. It is a good argument for home gardeners learning the more advanced skills needed to produce these plants at home for themselves. Most of the retics in our garden were grafted by Mark’s father Felix, back in the 1950s and 60s – now they are small trees.

Spring Festival - pretty as a picture

Spring Festival - pretty as a picture

The other group of plants which continue to last the distance in the garden are the miniature flowered varieties, both hybrids and species. Any miniature flowered variety worth its salt should have masses of buds and flowers so it doesn’t matter if petal blight attacks after two or three days because there are so many fresh buds opening and individual blooms rarely last longer than a couple of days. Spring Festival is an American hybrid registered 35 years ago but I wish it had been one of ours because it is as pretty as a picture – a particularly pretty shade of pink with an attractive flower form, plenty of flowers, good pillar growth and a pleasing glaucous cast to the leaf colour. Camellias are a bit like roses – far too many are named and registered and don’t stand the test of time but a few last the distance.
It is also clear that in terms of garden appearance, red camellias are a better bet than pale ones when it comes to petal blight. The reds do not look anywhere near as unsightly in the early stages when the blooms are showing speckles of brown.
Camellia minutiflora is just starting to open. It is a gem of a species with very dark foliage and dainty flowers. We have put a hold on most of the plants in the nursery as we ponder its suitability for formal hedging.

Camellia Diary 4, July 27, 2010

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The ugly devastation of camellia petal blight

I suspect there has been a bit of a conspiracy of silence about the devastating impact of camellia petal blight in this country. Between camellia enthusiasts, growers and retailers, nobody has really wanted to own up publicly to the fact that it must irrevocably change the types of camellias we plant and they way we use them. The sad thing is that when it was first discovered in Wellington over a decade ago, it was only in two or three locations and if there had been a will, it could probably have been eradicated.

Camellia petal blight at the top, showing the distinctive white ring, merely botrytis on the lower flower

Camellias used to be the second biggest plant seller in this country (roses were number one) and it was the wide use of them in relatively large numbers which aided the spread of petal blight. It is a fungal spore which can travel, apparently, up to 5km on the winds as well as being transferred by infected blooms and soils. The overseas advice to rake up and burn all infected blooms to reduce the spread was simply impractical in a country where they are heavily used in informal hedges and windbreaks. Camellias are seen as utility garden plants in New Zealand and not as show blooms so people were never going to get out with the leaf rake to clear up every single affected bloom.

Botrytis shows up as a darker brown on the bush and has been with us for a long time but nowhere near as devastating as the more recently arrived petal blight.

Botrytis shows up as a darker brown on the bush and has been with us for a long time but nowhere near as devastating as the more recently arrived petal blight.

So petal blight has turned the annual flowering into something of a disappointment, particularly on the japonicas where mass display is a thing of the past. We have always had botrytis here, which can turn blooms to sludge on the bush but the combination of botrytis and petal blight has dramatically reduced the display. Botrytis shows up as darker brown markings whereas petal blight is a paler discolouration. When you turn the blooms over and flick off the calyx (the little hat that holds the petals together on the back), petal blight is revealed as a powdery white ring. Botrytis does not show that white ring. As the affected blooms reach the ground, they give rise to the mushrooms which form at the base of affected plants – these release the spore and the petal blight continues its self contained cycle. Alas the self grooming characteristic (where camellias drop spoiled blooms) so determinedly sought by Les Jury in his days of breeding, no longer apply. Blight means the blooms hang on way past spoiling.

Mark put camellia breeding on the backburner and is only now returning to it as the picture becomes clearer on the directions to pursue. They are still a wonderful and versatile plant but we need to explore different ways to use them in the garden.