Plant Profile: Camellia ‘Night Rider’

Camellia ‘Night Rider’ possesses the sort of qualities that would lead one to expect it to be massively popular, yet it is but rarely seen.


New growth 16/06/2010


Raised in New Zealand by Os Blumhardt, its parents are C.’Ruby Bells’ x C.’Kuro-tsubaki’. It first flowered in 1980. The flowers are dark red and the petals waxy textured. It flowers late; this year in May when most other Camellias had finished. New growth is also late, commencing mid May. The new leaves are dark, glossy, purple red, particularly effective with back lighting. They turn dark green as summer progresses.


Flowers 26/04/2015



Flowers 11/05/2016


The individual blooms are about 5cm across and carried quite freely on my maturing bush. Flowering occurs before the new growth commences and against a backdrop of smallish dark green leaves.

The new shoots are 10cm long and are all the growth that the plant makes in a season. There is no second flush in summer so growth is very slow compared to most camellias. It is this slow growth that makes it unattractive to nurseries and ensures it is unlikely ever to become common.

Propagation would be by semi-ripe cuttings of current season’s growth taken mid-late July. Red pigment permeates every part of the plant; the centre of the stems and the roots being strongly infused .

Growth is compact and upright such that at ten years in average conditions it will be approaching a metre in height with a width of around 75cm. Camellias are long lived and it will no doubt get to 4 or 5 metres in time. It seems to grow well in full sun as well as in part shade and will be denser and more free flowering in the former.


New growth 12/06/2016


Autumn flowering Camellias

Camellia sasanqua 'Navajo'

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

I paid a visit yesterday to the Camellia National Collection at Mount Edgcumbe in the hope that their autumn flowering camellias would be putting on a show. I was not disappointed.

The autumn flowering camellias are often referred to as “the sasanquas” though some are forms of the species C. hiemalis, others hybrids. Many originate from Japan, sometimes renamed in other lands; others have been raised elsewhere, mainly America and Australia, which have the most suitable climates.

They need a long growing season inorder to produce and ripen new growth, then initiate and produce buds and blooms by the autumn. In the UK they are best in full sun, ideally with the backing of a south or west facing wall. In general they will tolerate poorer and less acid soils that other types of camellias.

Most of the Mt Edgcumbe sasanquas are growing in shade and as a result many of them are somewhat shy flowering. Many of them have a tendency to wide spreading, even unruly growth and this might also be offset by lighter conditions.

Most of them have a scent of sorts, emanating from the nectar and to my nose somewhat oily in character. It is responsible for attracting many late foraging insects, notably wasps.

The blooms will be produced over a long period, from October into the new year, with the best flushes in warmer spells. There are a few hybrids between autumn and spring flowering species and these can have exceptionally long flowering periods.

Particular favourites of mine are ‘Navajo’, ‘Cotton Candy’, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and ‘Paradise Little Liane’. The first three seem to produce good displays most years, the last is a plant of diminutive stature with sweeter smelling flowers than most.

Camellia update

Camellia sasanqua Navajo

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

I’ve had blooms on a number of camellias over the past couple of weeks, mostly on small, under cover, pot grown plants. First out was Camellia sasanqua ‘Gay Sue’. This New Zealand raised variety is described in the Camellia Register as having 12 petals and cream anthers. All the blooms I have seen here are anemone formed, some or all of the stamens having become petaloid. To my mind this adds to the charms of this excellent variety.

Next up was Camellia sasanqua ‘Cotton Candy’. This has single pink blooms and I have found it to be free flowering and strongly fragrant. I’m not sure I like the smell of sasanqua flowers, its somewhat oily, a smell rather than a fragrance. Scent is very subjective though.

The Paradise series of sasanquas were raised by Bob Cherry in Australia where they were marketed as hedging plants. I currently have two flowering, ‘Paradise Little Liane’ and ‘Paradise Blush’. ‘Little Liane’ is one of only three in the series to have Breeders Rights, so Bob presumably thought it had particular merit. I like it very much; it is a plant of diminutive stature with very small leaves and small white double flowers which I have found to have a proper perfume, not strong, but pleasant. It is not very vigorous and has grown better for me under cover. ‘Paradise Blush’ seems more robust, though I have not yet tried it outdoors.

‘Bonanza’ has double flowers of a particularly intense reddish pink. I have yet to detect any fragrance. It is described in the Register as a chance seedling, which encourages me to keep on collecting and sowing camellia seeds; I may yet make my fortune.

The plant I have bearing the name ‘Crimson King’ does not match the description in the Register. Mine has smallish single flowers with quite narrow petals. It is deep pink going on red, but is not at all free flowering. The description “Thick, broad petalled flowers of great substance, well shaped, deep crimson” is surely of something different.

Camellia ‘Sasanqua Variegata’ is one of the small number of camellias with variegated leaves. The pink blushed flowers are quite small and often misshapen, but the overall effect is pleasing enough without being outstanding.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’ was given its name by Nuccio’s Nurseries having been obtained from Japan but the name lost. I have found it something of a trial to grow, but when it blooms it is superb; white with a broad red border.

Lastly, and noticed only today, is ‘Sweet Emily Kate’. This I have in a pot and it doesn’t seem to me hardy enough for outdoors in the UK. As a japonica x lutchuensis hybrid this would not be surprising. It probabaly shouldn’t be flowering yet either, but it is and it’s even just about warm enough to be producing a faint but sweet perfume.