I was asked a question the other day about Camellia ‘Satan’s Robe’. The flowers had white stamens instead of the yellow ones they should have had. On closer inspection it turned out that the anthers had not developed and each stamen ended in a small white club. Looking at photographs I have taken of the same bush over a number of years, I observed that in most years the stamens developed properly and carried a mass of yellow pollen, whereas this year there is none. None of the anthers has developed properly and the flower is more double as an increased number of stamens have developed into petals.
This was not a surprise. Wild camellia species generally have single flowers with five petals and a central boss of stamens which produce yellow pollen. In the numerous double forms that we grow in gardens, it is the stamens that have given rise to the extra petals. This they do with varying degrees of success. In formal double flowers the stamens are gone entirely, replaced to the centre of the flower with perfectly formed petals.
In just about every other case, some or all of the stamens survive, but are not necessarily recognizable as such. Examine the centre of a double flower and you are likely to find some perfect stamens and some that are intermediate between stamen and petal. Commonly there are imperfect petals with imperfectly developed stamens at their edge. Sometimes all the stamens turn partially into petals. All these modified stamens are known as petaloids.
The Higo group of camellias are held in high regard in Japan and elsewhere, with particular attention being given to the spreading boss of stamens, of which there must be over one hundred. When these are inclined to become petaloid, the variety is deemed flawed. ‘Dewatairin’ generally produces petaloids not stamens but is widely grown outside of Japan because the petaloids are seen as attractive and interesting.
In general it seems that hotter climates favour the development of perfect stamens whereas cooler climates such as the UK favour the development of petaloids. ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ in the UK is always anemone centred with a central mass of petaloids and no stamens. I have seen it in Brisbane with a mass of stamens and barely more than a single row of petals.
It is interesting that when the stamens become petaloid, they may all take the form of fully developed petals or, like ‘Bob’s Tinsie’ or ‘Bokuhan’ all take the form of small spoons in the centre of the flower. In many others all stages of intermediates are found.
I was able to reassure the lady with the ‘Satan’s Robe’ that she did in all probability have the right plant, but it does highlight a little of the difficulty with identifying an unnamed plant or even verifying the accuracy of the name provided.