Sazanka – the Flower of Autumn Sun

I wrote this text for the website www.sazanka.org, which I created back in 2003 and radically redesigned using WordPress at the end of 2007.

“Sazanka” is a Japanese name of the ornamental shrub Camellia sasanqua and two related hybrid camellia species – C. x hiemalis and C. x vernalis. Non-Japanese people call it “sasanqua”. On our website we call it “The Flower of Autumn Sun”, because sasanqua flowers from September to January and loves sun. Every fall sasanqua gives its lovers a magnificent show of flowers.

We developed this web site for sasanqua lovers, gardeners, breeders and scientists to exchange cultural and botanical information as well as to maintain photo database of sasanqua cultivars.

Camellia sasanqua ‘White Doves’. The Japanese name is ‘Mine-no-yuki’ meaning “Snow on the Ridge”. Introduced in 1898.

In Japanese, word “sazanka” is written with three Kanji characters 山茶花 meaning “mountain”, “tea” and “flower”. In Chinese, sasanqua is called “cha-mai” and is written with two characters 茶梅 meaning “tea” and “pretty”, together meaning “pretty tea”.

The relationship between sasanqua and tea is not a coincidence. Genus Camellia is well-known mainly because of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and large-flowering Camellia japonica. However sasanqua does not hybridize readily with them and horticulturaly should be considered a distinctively different plant.

Camellia sinensis, a tea plant

Sasanqua’s sister, Camellia japonica is a winter-flowering plant with glamorous flowers suited for cutting flower shows. Japonica likes shade and should be combined with other shade-loving plants like azaleas and ferns.

Camellia japonica ‘Glen 40’ (‘Coquettii’)

On the other hand, sasanqua has more gentle flowers, frequently with delicate tea scent. Sasanqua’s flowers are less suitable as cut flowers, because they quickly drop after cutting. But sasanqua flowers are produced in great profusion and sasanqua plant looks marvelously in the garden. Sasanqua loves sun and can be combined with roses. It is a winning combination – roses bloom from spring to early fall, sasanquas bloom from early fall to winter.

Closest relative of sasanqua is Camellia oleifera, a tea-oil camellia, used to make cooking and cosmetic oil in Southern China. Oleifera readily hybridizes with sasanqua as well as with other closely related species – C. miyagii, C. kissii, C. brevistyla and others. Oleifera is a parent of “Ackerman hybrids” – a group of cold-tolerant cultivars developed by Dr. Willian Ackerman for gardeners in relatively colder places, like Washington DC.

A seedling of Camellia oleifera

Winter’s Rose. C. oleifera ‘Plain Jane’ x C. x hiemalis ‘Otome’. William Ackerman. Survives very low winter temperatures – down to -15 F / -26 C.

There are five main groups of sasanqua cultivars – “true” C. sasanqua, C. hiemalis, C. vernalis, group of hybrids with common name ‘Egao’, and cold-tolerant sasanqua-oleifera Ackerman hybrids.

C. hiemalis and C. vernalis are probably originated from back-crossing of some ancient natural sasanqua-japonica hybrids back to sasanqua. C. hiemalis include popular double and peony-form cultivars like ‘Shishigashira’, ‘Showa-no-sakae’ and ‘Kanjiro’. C. vernalis include the only true red sasanqua ‘Yuletide’, originated as a seedling of popular in Australia cultivar ‘Hiryu’ (australians incorrectly call it ‘Kanjiro’).

Camellia x hiemalis ‘Shishigashira’. Means “Lion’s Head” in Japanese.

Many books include ‘Egao’ and related cultivars (‘Shibori-Egao’, ‘Egao Corkscrew’, ‘Grady’s Egao’) into sasanqua group of camellias. However scientific research suggests that ‘Egao’ is a complicated back-cross of japonica-sasanqua hybrids back to japonica. ‘Egao’ looks, sun-tolerance, flower size and texture, flowering season are in-between sasanqua and japonica.

Camellia x vernalis ‘Egao’. Means “smiling face” in Japanese.

3 thoughts on “Sazanka – the Flower of Autumn Sun

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