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Camellias for Dwarfs and Elves – an article by Yuri Panchul in American Camellia Yearbook 2011 – full text

Full text of the article about dwarf camellia I wrote a year ago and mentioned in previous post.
This article was published in American Camellia Yearbook 2011.

Полный текст статьи о карликовых камелиях, которую я написал год назад и про которую я написал в предыдущем посте.

Camellias for dwarfs and elves
Yuri Panchul
American Camellia Yearbook 2011

A big disadvantage of the camellia hobby is the fact that eventually almost every camellia is going to become a large tree. Yes, it is possible to prune camellias severely and even create a camellia bonsai. However such drastic techniques are not only labor intensive – they go against the natural habit of growth for the majority of camellias. Are there any dwarf camellias, suitable for a camellia hobbyist with little available space – let’s say, a balcony in a city? Yes and no. There are several camellias that come close, but their variability is no match for the variability of their large camellia relatives. This situation creates an opportunity for the camellia hybridizers of different ranks, including both professionals and backyard hybridizers.

What is a dwarf camellia? An ideal plant should have small leaves, relatively short internodes, high density of foliage and miniature attractive flowers. In addition, a camellia hobbyist would expect to have cultivars with different habits – willowy for groundcovers, rigid and upright for cypress-like columnar growth and everything in between – drooping, spreading, et cetera. A dwarf camellia should be also slow growing, although some people would prefer to have a fast growing cultivar with fine texture (small leaves and flowers) to quickly create a medium-size plant and then control its size with pruning.

Ideally, a set of dwarf cultivars should have all the flower variations available for the rest of camellias – both in color (white, salmon pink, pink, dark pink, red or bicolor) and in form (single, semidouble, formal double, peony or anemone). Unfortunately, only a fraction of the desired combination exists among dwarf camellias.

Last, but not least, it is very desirable to have dwarf cultivars that are easy to grow. So far, many slow-growing and fine-textured camellia cultivars I have are delicate – they have weaker root system and require careful observation when to water and when to fertilize them. These cultivars are also difficult to propagate through grafting and even more difficult by rooting cuttings.

This article describes only camellia species that belong to the section Paracamellia of the genus Camellia, according to the classifications of Robert Sealy (1958) and Ming Tianlu (2000). (Footnote: There is another classification by Chang Hung Ta (1981) that splits Sealy’s Paracamellia section into two sections (Paracamellia and Oleifera), but many botanists, including Dr. William Ackerman feel that these sections are so close that the split is unwarranted.) This section includes sun tolerant Camellia sasanqua, oil-producing Camellia oleifera and many species that potentially cross-breed with Camellia sasanqua, including C. grijsii, C. microphylla, C. puniceiflora and others. The species from the section Paracamellia have generally smaller leaves than the species from other sections, notably from section Camellia that includes popular species C. japonica and C. reticulata. There are some species from other sections of Camellia genus that have small leaves – notably from section Theopsis, but those species are too botanically distant from C. sasanqua group to cross-breed with them.

There are not so many horticulturalists who observed the inheritance of dwarfness in Camellia. An important observation was made by Dr. William Ackerman from Maryland, when he was working on Camellia cold-hardiness program. When crossing non-dwarf C. oleifera ‘Plain Jane’ with non-dwarf C. sasanqua ‘O’Nishiki’, Dr. Ackerman observed that a quarter of hybrids had genetic dwarfness features – slow growth, smaller leaves and internodes. This classical Mendelian 3:1 ratio suggested to Dr. Ackerman that the dwarfness was in this case regulated by a single recessive gene that was heterozygous in two parents. The same gene was probably acting in well-known Ackerman dwarf hybrids ‘Winter’s Rose’ and ‘Winter’s Red Rider’. However this gene may not explain more extreme cases, like a cultivar ‘Jewel Box’ from Nuccio’s Nurseries in Southern California that has much smaller leaves than Ackerman’s hybrids.

‘Jewel Box’ is the smallest of sasanqua cultivars – its typical leaf is just 30×12 mm as comparing to a more regular leaves of sasanqua cultivar ‘Jean May’ that measures 62×28 mm or a typical Camellia japonica leaf of ‘Kamo Honnami’ that measures 90×60 mm. ‘Jewel Box’ originated in Nuccio’s Nurseries, California. It produces a lot of somewhat wavy single white flowers, sometimes with a pink tint on the border. It appears this cultivar was used to decorate Japanese garden in Huntington Library and Gardens in Sam Marino, California. This garden has the healthiest and best maintained ‘Jewel Box’ planted between rocks along the sidewalk.

‘Jewel Box’ does produce seeds and these seeds sprout, so the cultivar can be used for breeding. However the seedlings are very delicate and easily die when overwatered. The plant’s root system is not very strong, so it is important not to overwater, over-dry or over-fertilize the plant. When grown under sub-optimal condition, this plant frequently shows chrolosis (yellow blotches on leaves) or even have deformed undeveloped leaves. It is difficult to say whether it is a genetic feature, or a result or some virus infection that are frequent among camellia cultivars and result in blotched flowers in pink camellias.

‘Jewel Box’ grows slowly but can be grafted, although it is not the easiest plant to propagate by grafting. Some grafts initially take, but stop growing next year and do not grow beyond stunted stage with a lot of almost opened buds, but no real sprouts. Some other grafts not only take and grow, but develop several large leaves before going back to the size of leaves normal for ‘Jewel Box’. ‘Jewel Box’ may be an interesting subject for a researcher to try different plant hormones – synthetic auxins, gibberellin, etc.

One of the best dwarf sasanqua cultivars is ‘Dwarf Shishi’ (leaf 40×20 mm), a seedling of well-knows cultivar ‘Shishigashira’ of so-called Camellia x hiemalis group of hybrids. (Footnote: C. x hiemalis for a long time was considered to be a species, separate from C. sasanqua, until genetic research proved that C. x hiemalis originated from some ancient hybrid of C. sasanqua with C. japonica). ‘Dwarf Shishi’ was originated by Japanese-American horticulturalist Toichi Domoto (1883-1992) in San Francisco Bay Area. This cultivar has attractive dark pink rose-form double flowers, rigid branches, dense low-growing bush and reasonably strong root system. A scion of ‘Dwarf Shishi’ is very easy to graft on some old overgrown camellia – it quickly produces a very dense sturdy plant. ‘Dwarf Shishi’ is definitely a very promising parent for hybridizing.

There is another cultivar called ‘White Dwarf Shishi’, distributed by Nuccio’s Nurseries. It is not clear whether it is a seedling of ‘Dwarf Shishi’. ‘White Dwarf Shishi’ is a nice plant with double white flowers and straight branches, but its branches are slightly more flexible, habit is more upright and the shape of flowers is different from ‘Dwarf Shishi’. Tom Nuccio hypothesized that this cultivar may be the same as another slow-growing cultivar ‘Kira-shiro-kantsubaki’, but this is certainly not the case – the cultivars of ‘Kira-shiro-kantsubaki’ I got from two different sources (Nuccio’s Nurseries and Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina) – are different, especially in flower shape.

Next plant I would like to present is ‘Tanya’ – a well-known cultivar of Japanese origin. The name is not Russian ‘Tanya’, but a Japanese name of a classic Japanese drama. Technically speaking, this cultivar is not a dwarf – it can grow to large size, but its leaves are smaller than leaves of most sasanqua cultivars, and its branches are very flexible, almost willowy, which makes it suitable for groundcovers and even dramatic-looking bonsai-like container plant. ‘Tanya’ produces masses of single pink flowers of a nice tone, and these flowers generate a lot of seeds. I have one seedling of ‘Tanya’ with very small leaves (20 x 12 mm) and numerous seedlings with leaves much below average size. This shows that ‘Tanya’ is a very useful parent plant that can be crossed with double cultivars like ‘Dwarf Shishi’ and others.

There is another unusually-looking cultivar ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ (typical leaf 45×20 mm) from Nuccio’s Nurseries. It is slow growing; it has small leaves and star-shaped little white flowers. This is a cute plant to have, however its root system is weak, which makes the plant quite finicky, and I never got any seeds on it. The shape of the flower is unusual for sasanqua and I would not be surprised if it happens to be an accidental inter-species hybrid.

I already mentioned cultivars ‘Winter’s Rose’ and ‘Winter’s Red Rider’ that originated from Dr. William Ackerman’s cold-hardiness research that started in late 1970s, when Dr. Ackerman discovered that a close sasanqua relative, Camellia oleifera, is more cold-hardy than other Camellia species and can be used to extend the geographical range of camellia growing.

‘Winter’s Rose’ is a cross between C. x hiemalis ‘Otome’ and C. oleifera ‘Plain Jane’ (pollen). It has relatively large leaves and would not qualify to be dwarf based on purely leaf size. However it is very slow growing and has low-growing habit, so I would call it a dwarf with some reservation. ‘Winter’s Rose’ has strong branches, dark leaves and very nice rose-form double pink flowers – flower shape is a strong point of this cultivar. Unfortunately it has weak root system and is sensitive for overwatering or over-fertilizing. I would recommend to graft it on something stronger, like ‘Kanjiro’, but I not sure whether ‘Winter’s Rose’ will keep its dwarfness being grafted on a strong rootstock – a growth habit of a plant is controlled by a complicated equilibrium of plant hormones and roots sometimes influence the shoots, although this influence is not inheritable by its offspring.

‘Winter’s Red Rider’, another Dr. Ackerman’s cross between C. hiemalis ‘Shishigashira’ and C. oleifera ‘Lu Shan Snow’ (pollen), has single pink flowers and smaller leaves than ‘Winter’s Rose’. Unfortunately I was not able to grow it well because two plants I got had very weak root system and grafts were not successful.

One of the strangest sasanqua plants available is ‘Sasanqua Compacta’ – a cultivar from Nuccio’s Nurseries that has normal size leaves and large single white flowers, but abnormally short internodes. It is probably a consequence of some mutation that severely restricts the production of one of plant growth hormones or possibly broke some specific biochemical pathways related to the hormones without affecting other pathways. It would be an interesting experiment to graft ‘Sasanqua Compacta’ on some strong rootstock (like ‘Kanjiro’ and ‘Narumigata’) and see whether the graft starts growing normally when it is supplied by the growth hormones synthesized by its rootstock.

There are a lot of low-growing cultivars from Paradise Plants nursery in Australia, for example ‘Paradise Little Liane’, ‘Paradise Petite’, ‘Paradise Little Liane’ and others; they are claimed to be true miniatures, with small leaves and habit. However these cultivars are not available in the United States, probably because of export or propagation restrictions.

In order to create novelties, some hybridizers cross not just different cultivars of the same species but different species. There are several interesting species with small leaves from Paracamellia section, notably some varieties of Camellia grijsii, Camellia puniceiflora and Camellia microphylla.

Camellia grijsii has both large and small leaf varieties. The most distinctive feature of C. grijsii is its deep and clearly visible leaf veins. A wild form of C. grijsii has wavy single white flower. There is a rare Chinese cultivar Camellia grijsii ‘Zhenzhucha’ that has miniature rose-form double white flowers and small leaves (35-40 x 21-23 mm). It is very difficult to explain why this cultivar is not selling yet in every garden store in California and other Camellia states. The flowers are beautiful and the plant is easy to grow (especially when grafted). It is possible that this cultivar is a recent import from China – at the moment Camellia grijsii ‘Zhenzhucha’ is available in Nuccio’s Nurseries but nowhere else I am aware of. This cultivar produces a lot of seeds and might be a good potential parent.

Camellia puniceiflora is another species that has both large and small leaf varieties. The small leaf (37-40 x 16 mm) variety has small pink flowers with balls of bright yellow stamens. Camellia puniceiflora is easy to propagate using grafting; it produces a lot of seeds and can be used in hybridization. The only downside – it is not really a dwarf itself because it quite quickly grows into a large spreading bush with low density of leaves. Most plants I would call ‘dwarfs’ are dense and slow-growing.

Another non-dwarf plant with small leaves is ‘Starry Pillar’ (typical leaf 32×16 mm). This is a new cultivar from Nuccio’s Nurseries with masses of snow-white single flowers of the shape that suggests this is not a sasanqua, but an interspecies hybrid. Nevertheless ‘Starry Pillar’ is very sun-tolerant, just like true sasanqua cultivars. It also has a vertical habit with quite dense foliage. I never saw ‘Starry Pillar’ making seeds so it is difficult to tell whether it can be used in hybridization.

Another small-leaved cultivar with even more distinctive columnar habit is ‘Slim’N’Trim’, also from Nuccio’s Nurseries. Its leaf sizes vary widely but give it a sunny spot with not so much fertilizer, and it will grow into a dense column with small leaves (40 x 17 mm). ‘Slim’N’Trim’ makes medium-size single pink flowers with narrow petals and sometimes produces seeds.

Finally, there are several non-dwarf cultivars that are worth mentioning because their leaves are smaller than the leaves of average sasanqua and these cultivars possess at least some features useful for hybridization program. ‘Silverado’ from Nuccio’s Nurseries is slow-growing smaller leaf (45 x20 mm) cultivar with single white flowers and very rare silvery color of its leaves. ‘Enishi’ is a classical Japanese slow-growing cultivar with smaller than average sasanqua leaves (40-50 x 17-20 mm), drooping growth habit and rose-shape, almost formal double pink flowers. ‘Rosy Pillar’ is a new sasanqua from Nuccio’s Nursery with columnar habit, single pink flowers, smaller leaves (50 x 20 mm) and good seed production. ‘Shikoku Stars’ is a dense wild variety of Camellia sasanqua with many relatively small plain white flowers.



Rosy Pillar:

Shikoku Stars:

As we can see, there are very few sasanqua cultivars that can be truly called “Camellias for dwarfs and elves”. A relatively solid candidate for this title is Dwarf Shishi, other good candidates are ‘Jewel Box’ and ‘White Dwarf Shishi’. Rest of candidates can be called ‘dwarfs’ with some reservations – they are either not so dwarf, or not available in the United States, or require more than usual care to stay in shape and healthy. It is likely that a new generation of better dwarf camellias is going to be introduced in the future, and the most promising candidates are waiting both professional and amateur breeders on their seedling benches.


  1. Ackerman, William L. 2007. Beyond the Camellia Belt. Breeding, Propagating, and Growing Cold-Hardy Camellias. Batavia, Illinois: Ball Publishing.
  2. Camellia Forest Nursery Catalog. Fall 2007. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  3. Chang Hung Ta and Bruce Bartholomew. 1984. Camellias. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.
  4. Gao Jiyin, Clifford R. Parks and Du Yueqiang. 2005. Collected Species of the genus Camellia. An illustrated outline. China.
  5. Japan Camellia Society. 1999. The Nomenclature of Japanese Camellias and Sasanquas (Nippon Tsubaki . Sasanqua Meikan). English Translation supervised by Thomas J. Savige.
  6. Macoboy, Stirling and Roger Mann. 1998. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Camellias. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.
  7. Ming Tianlu. 2000. Monograph of the genus Camellia. Yunnan Science and Technology Press, Kunming, P.R. China
  8. Nuccio’s Nurseries Catalog. 2007-2008. Altadena, California.
  9. Riess Suzanne B. Toichi Domoto. A Japanese-American nurseryman’s life in California: floriculture and family, 1883-1992. Interviews Conducted by Suzanne B. Riess in 1992. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  10. Sealy, Robert J. 1958. A Revision of the Genus Camellia. London: The Royal Horticultural Society.
  11. Trehane, Jennifer. 2007. Camellias. The Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Photo albums of the cultivars mentioned in the article
Фотоальбомы культиваров упомянутых в статье

  1. Dwarf Shishi
  2. Enishi
  3. Camellia grijsii
  4. Camellia grijsii ‘Zhenzhucha’
  5. Jewel Box
  6. Kira Shiro Kantsubaki
  7. Camellia puniceiflora, light variety
  8. Rosy Pillar
  9. Sasanqua Compacta
  10. Shikoku Stars
  11. Silverado
  12. Slim’N’Trim
  13. Starry Pillar
  14. Tanya
  15. Twinkle, Twinkle
  16. White Dwarf Shishi
  17. Winter’s Red Rider
  18. Winter’s Rose

Camellias for Dwarfs and Elves – an article by Yuri Panchul in American Camellia Yearbook 2011

I just received a new American Camellia Yearbook 2011 in the mail and it has my article about compact sasanqua cultivars, Camellias for Dwarfs and Elves. The American Camellia Yearbook is the most prestigious periodical about camellias published by the American Camellia Society. I have an issue of every single American Camellia Yearbook since 1946 – all 66 of them. Below I made photo pictures of all pages, relevant to my article.

Я только что получил по почте новый выпуск ежегодника American Camellia Yearbook 2011, в котором напечатали мою статью про компактные культивары камелии сазанки – “Камелии для гномов и эльфов”. American Camellia Yearbook является самым престижным журналом о камелиях, который публикует Американское Общество Камелий. По количеству и качеству статей ему нет равных в мире. У меня есть каждый выпуск American Camellia Yearbook с 1946 года – все 66 книжек. Внизу я сфотографировал все страницы журнала, имеющие отношение к моей статье.

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Yuri Panchul’s seedlings evaluated during 2011-2012 season. Part I

Seedling I like:





Seedlings I would like to evaluate for one more year:









All seedlings:
Continue reading ‘Yuri Panchul’s seedlings evaluated during 2011-2012 season. Part I’

Sun Camellias – a book published by Southern California Camellia Society

Southern California Camellia Society published a 50-page book called Sun Camellias about Fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua. I contributed to this book 28 photo pictures (mostly from my garden) and a small text about camellia breeders from my website www.sazanka.org. If you are interested in purchasing this book from the Camellia Society, you can do it on their website www.socalcamellias.org in the section Make a Purchase.

Общество Камелий Южной Калифорнии опубликовало книжку на 50 страниц под названием “Камелии солнца” oб осеннецветущей камелии горной или Camellia sasanqua. Я сам внес вклад в эту книжку – 28 сделанных мною фотографий камелий (преимущественно из моего сада) и небольшой текст о селекционерах камелий с моего сайта www.sazanka.org. Если вы хотите приобрести книжку Общества Камелий, вы можете сделать это на их сайте www.socalcamellias.org в разделе Make a Purchase.

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Interesting striped seedling yuri_panchul_2005_017_nodami_ushiro

I got a very interesting seedling with striped pink/white petals – yuri_panchul_2005_017_nodami_ushiro.

Striped sasanquas are very rare – the only one I know is a hybrid Stars’N’Stripes, and Stars’N’Stripes is not really a typical sasanqua – it is sensitive to sunlight and has elongated leaves comparing to traditional sasanquas. Most bicolor sasanquas are not striped, some are blotched – the blotching pattern is the result of a relatively harmless virus.

My new seedling’s parent is probably Nodami Ushiro. I am going to evaluate it for a while to make sure this striped pattern is stable. In the main time I will probably propagate it by grafting.

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Seedling yuri_panchul_2003_024_oleifera evaluation – unsuccessful

I decided to start writing down all seedling evaluations – even for very poor seedlings. I think it will help me to develop successful evaluation criteria.

I got the seed for yuri_panchul_2003_024_oleifera not from a plant in my garden, but from Camellia Forest Nursery in 2003. The resulting seedling was blooming first time 2009.09.02. The flower is a typical wild-type C. oleifera flower, nothing special. The bush shape is spreading, branches are flexible and have long internodes – this is not practical unless you plant to grow an espalier. Leaves are not shiny and way too large for my taste – the largest leaves are approximately 110×60, 100×60 and 90×70 mm (4.3 x 2.4, 4.0 x 2.4, 3.5 x 2.8 inch). The root system is pretty strong.

The plant was grown in somewhat poor condition – it was too dry during one of the heat waves that coincidentally happened during the period of active growth back in April-May. As a result some leaves are deformed. The plant is also root bound but this can be easily corrected by proper root pruning. There are some slugs living at the bottom of the container – this is natural because the container was standing on a plastic shelf lying on the ground. The damage from these slugs appear to be very minor.

The conclusion. This plant should be used as a rootstock during next February. The root bound problem can be corrected after 1 year.

Continue reading ‘Seedling yuri_panchul_2003_024_oleifera evaluation – unsuccessful’

Guestbook and Announcements

Welcome, you can leave a message here. I am looking for the following species and cultivars: Camellia microphylla, Bonsai Baby, Paradise Petite, Camellia oleifera ‘Jaune’. If you want to use any of my photo pictures please let me know.

Yuri Panchul

Happy blooming New Year!

Today the newspaper San Francisco Chronicle published my photo picture of the Camellia hybrid ‘Yuletide’. The photo appeared in as an illustration to an article written by Demetra Bowles Lathrop. The name of the article is “Happy blooming New Year! Camellias, hellebores, winter hazel can brighten desolate Bay Area gardens” and it appeared in the gardening section.

You can get the article from the newspaper’s website: http://tinyurl.com/6clpca

Сегодня, 10-го января, газета Сан-Франциско Кроникл напечатала мою фотографии камелии ‘Юлетайд’. Фотография иллюстрирует статью журналистки Деми Латроп про растения, цветущие в области Сан-Францисского залива во время Нового Года.

Yuletide. C. x vernalis. Originated by Nuccio’s Nurseries, California in 1963. A seedling of ‘Hiryu’.
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This beauty shows its colors early

A couple of week ago I got a call from journalist Lili Singer, who needed some information about Camellia sasanqua for her article in Los Angeles Times. Today this article was published. You can see my sasanqua cultivar recommendations in the article.

Dwarf Shishi. A seedling of ‘Shishigashira’. Originated by Toichi Domoto, California in 1988.

You can get the article from LA Times archive: http://tinyurl.com/64cyo7

Continue reading ‘This beauty shows its colors early’