By Bradford King
Variegation is the appearance of differently colored zones in the leaves, and flowers but also sometimes the stems. This may be due to a number of causes—environmental or genetic. Some of the most popular and beautiful camellia flowers have genetic or viral variegation.
Genetic variegation in camellia flowers is recognized as white borders or streaks and dashes of color on the petals. A classic genetic variegated camellia is ‘Tama-No–Ura’ a small single red flower with a white border.
Nuccio’s Nurseries in Altadena, California have introduced nine different ‘Tama no Ura’ seedlings with varying amounts of white. The one with the most white is ‘Tama Americana’
The most popular and arguably the best is ‘Tama Peacock’, below.
The medium white flower of ‘Betty Foy Sanders’ is beautifully variegated by rose red streaks.
‘Lady Laura’ is a light pink with genetic rose streaks and dashes.
Camellias may have viral variegation induced naturally or purposely. It is recognized by white blotches or moiré markings that resemble water marks on the flowers. Viral variegation also appears as yellow or white on some of the leaves. Researchers have found the virus in leaves, petals and stamens. It is in the camellias’ sap and therefore moves throughout the bush. It is not found in seeds which means it cannot be inherited. It is believed to be transmitted when roots of an infected plant entwine with an uninfected plant or sap from an infected plant is transferred while pruning. Therefore pruning shears need to be cleaned with high heat or Clorox. There also may be insect or bird vectors. The virus may be in the soil. The virus originated in Southeast Asia, most likely China, as there are camellias hundreds of years old with viral variegation such as the wonderful C. reticulata ‘Cornelian’.
Most camellia experts believe there are at least two different viruses and as many as six. Visually we can identify camellia variegation as blotches, spots, streaks, moiré and combinations. These may be a different virus or how the viral symptoms express themselves in certain cultivars. Some cultivars are resistant to the virus. Others are partially resistant allowing only a very few markings to develop which is just enough to make an unattractive flower. Some cultivars have variegated foliage but no markings on the flowers.
The striking contrast of white markings on a red flower is illustrated by ‘Adolphe Audusson Variegated’
A very large pink flower with lovely white blotches is seen in the photo of ‘Katie Variegated’
A good example of moiré virus variegation is seen on ‘San Dimas Variegated’. This is the type of variegation that looks like water marking.