Fragrant Camellias

Fragrant Camellias

Fragrant Camellias

Hold your noses roses, Camellias are smelling sweet these days!

Fragrant Camellias

by William L. Ackerman

Floral fragrance is a very ephemeral characteristic and its full appreciation is dependent upon both environmental conditions and human perceptions. Environmentally, fragrance can vary according to temperature, humidity, and air movement. Among humans, the sense of smell varies between individuals, ranging from those who lack it (not just older people) to those who are especially sensitive. Also, what may be a pleasant fragrance to some may be neutral or unpleasant to others.

This last difference is especially true regarding the fragrance of some blooms of C. sasanqua, C. oleifera, and C. hiemalis. Here, the quality of the fragrance (or odor) is characterized as being musky or pungent. Among C. japonicas, there are a number of cultivars that claim to have fragrance. The 2006 Camellia Nomenclature lists eight with ‘Fragrant’ (or ‘fragrance’) in their name, and four beginning with the word ‘Scent.’

Then, of course, there is the Herme group, several cultivars of which are reported to have some fragrance, especially ‘Colonial Lady.’ Beginning in the early 1960s, efforts were made using C. lutchuensis to incorporate floral fragrance into commercially acceptable culativars. Dr. Robert K. Cutter of Berkeley, CA, was a pioneer in this work. Unfortunately, his untimely death curtailed his breeding program before completion. He did, however, introduce two fragrant backcross hybrids ‘Alice K. Cutter’ and ‘Virginia W. Cutter’.

Kenneth Hallstone, of Lafayette, CA, took over, and progressed on the work of Dr. Cutter’s for several years, introducing ‘Scented Sun’. Toichi Domoto was another of the early U.S. pioneers, introducing ‘Scented Gem’ in 1983.

William Ackerman was also working along similar lines at the time. A few early introductions included: ‘Fragrant Pink’, ‘Ack-Scent’, ‘Ack-Scent Sno’, ‘Ack-Scent Spice, ‘Cinnamon Cindy’, and ‘Cinnamon Scentsation’. Ackerman’s breeding program came to a abrupt halt in the late 1970s when a series of severe winters from 1976 through 1980 in the Washington, DC metropolitan area caused wide devastation of local camellia plants.

An emphasis towards developing cold-hardy camellias became the full-time goal of his breeding program. However, work on floral fragrance continued with J. Finley of Whangerei, New Zealand, who began breeding scented camellias in 1970 and has continued through to the present. Crossing C.lutchuensis with C. japonica ‘Tiffany’, he had his first bloom six years later, which was named ‘Scentuous’. A good example of persistence was Finlay’s breeding through three generations of scented cultivars and hybrids to produce ‘Sweet Emma’.

It took twenty-two years, but Finlay declared it well worth the time and effort. Overall, Finlay has made many thousands of controlled crosses and registered more than fifty-five fragrant cultivar introductions. Two examples are ‘High Fragrance’, and ‘Nice Fragrance.’ In this regard, he has more fragrant-flowered camellia introductions to his credit than anyone.

Others ‘down under’ have also been busy, including M. Baker, R. Garnett, and G. Hooper of Australia. Where some researchers leave off, others carry on. This is as it should be in the field of hybridization. Accomplishment of worthwhile goals may take many years and a sequence of several hybridizers.