‘Nodami Ushiro’ – a Higo-like sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua ‘Nodami Ushiro’. Introduced by Domoto Nursery, California, 1934, but is originally from Japan. Stirling Macoboy believes that the name means “a backward glance” in Japanese, but he is probably incorrect. Since I cannot find this name in Japanese sources and my Japanese wife tells me that Japanese people are not likely to name a flower this way (“mi” meaning “body”), I guess that the original name was different. From browsing the history of Toichi Domoto I got an impression that he did not know Kanji well because he was a second-generation Japanese-American. Because of it, Toichi Domoto probably made a naming mistake when he imported it.

It is difficult to explain what is so special about ‘Nodami Ushiro’. It is a single pink camellia with a lot of single pink competitors – ‘Plantation Pink’, ‘Cleopatra’, ‘Tanya’ and others. However Jennifer Trehane in her camellia book calls ‘Nodami Ushiro’ “a subtle, sophisticated camellia”. Where does this sophistication come from? I have an explanation.

I noticed ‘Nodami Ushiro’ when I was walking across Nuccio’s nursery in Southern California. The first thought was “A-ha! It is a Higo-like sasanqua”. Higo camellias are japonicas originated by samurai clan Kumamoto1. They are single asymmetrical somewhat triangular flowers with a cloud of golden stamens. Their simplicity and slight irregularity create a feeling of delicate harmony. I got the same feeling from ‘Nodami Ushiro’ and this feeling was very real, especially if you take into account the fact that I noticed this flower among thousands of other flowers.

‘Nodami Ushiro’ flowers are large (up to 90 mm), single or sometimes semi-double, with 20 mm yellow stamens. Many flowers look bubbly and frequently irregular in shape. Trehane wrote that the petals have “wavy, sometimes notched edges”. Macoboy stated that ‘Nodami Ushiro’ blooms during the early season, while Trehane believes it is mid-season. This year (2008) in my garden ‘Nodami Ushiro’ started to bloom on September 16 (early season) but last year (2007) mass blooming occurred during November (mid-late season).

Leaves are large, up to 40×70 mm.

I like this flower the most on a small container plant. However the main ‘Nodami Ushiro’ plant in my garden is large and very spreading. According to Macoboy, “the shrub is compact in size, but vigorous in growth so it may be readily pruned to whatever shape you choose”. But Trehane is saying “forming a tall, upright bush”. I believe the habit of this shrub is not “compact” and not “upright”. Looks like all three of us (Macoboy, Trehane and me) had different garden environments and applied different pruning. One thing is for sure – the plant is fast-growing and flexible.

1 In addition to Higo japonicas there are Higo sasanquas, but they are very different from Higo japonicas and people outside Japan usually do not call them Higo camellias. ‘Nodami Ushiro’ is not one of them. When I say “a Higo-like sasanqua”, I mean “a sasanqua that has a feeling of Higo japonica”.