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It is Joyful and Fun to Breed New Camellias Effectively

John Wang*

11 Easton, Ct. OrindaCA 94563, USA
* E-mail:

In 2006 the Chinese Camellia Breeding Group was established at Shanghai, China. I was a guest at this meeting. Since then many new camellias cultivars have been developed and registered through the ICS in China. I have learned that many people in China are growing camellias and some of them intend to breed new cultivars. Therefore, I would like to share my camellia breeding experience. Particularly, I want to convey the joy and fun that I experience when I breed new camellias more effectively.

 From my personal observations, many of my camellia-breeding friends at the Northern California Camellia Society have been very dedicated gardeners.  Many of them take care at least one thousand or more camellia seedlings, day in and day out, for over 5 years, waiting to see the first flower to open. There is an unwritten rule among camellia breeders.  For every 100 seedlings there perhaps will be one very nice new camellia found. For every 500 to 1000 camellia seedlings there should be one great new camellia developed. In their lifetime, many of my camellia-breeding friends produce only a very limited number of camellia flowers such as 'Harold Paige’, 'Ruta Hagmann', 'Scented Sun' and 'Barbara Goff'.

I often thought we ought to improve our success rate. Why not have one desirable flower for every 50 seedlings? How about for every 30 new seedlings?  I seriously think about we should be able to produce a very desirable new flower for every 10-15 seedlings. If so, camellia breeding can become free of the burden of caring for so many seedlings for so many years.  Camellia breeding can become even more filled with joy and fun for us. My 40-year career as the Quality Assurance Manager for a very large dairy enterprise and managing multiple dairy processing plants helps. Troubleshooting becomes my natural instinct. I get used to solving critical problems in a very limited time. Sometimes I have to try new approaches, new concepts, and new testing methods in order to trace the cause of a given problem.

1.  My Simple Idea and the Discipline

 Actually there are so many areas for me to explore and get my hands on. Now I want to share with you my simple idea and the discipline to effectively produce nice new flowers. The logic should be very simple.

1.1.     Deciding on the major direction or a unique trait that will allow your new camellia flower to stand out and not to produce another common nice flower in an already crowded field.

1.2.     Formation of the breeding goal. I would already have a mental picture of my new flower including the size, the color, the petal shape, the form, special genetic trait such as fragrance and cold hardiness …etc.

1.3.      Selection of parent plants: It shall be a gradual, careful process, looking over all possible camellia species and over all camellia flowers. Evaluate their attributes "based on the goal of my ideal model".

Select the best ones. Then compare them again: their merits and possible drawbacks, making second and third screen tests. You can continue to select parent plants till pollination time.

Select only two mother plants and two pollen plants. The mother plants should be rather fertile, more petals is desirable. The pollen plants should have most possible petals such as full peony form (not loose peony), rose form double or full anemone. Sometimes it takes the second generation of seedlings to obtain more petal and proper-size status because many species are single flower.

camellia pollination indoors 2.    The way I practice pollination

2.1.     Pollination is carried out indoors so there is no interference from rain, wind, bees, and temperature. Three days after the last flower is pollinated, I move the plant outdoors.

2.2.    Cross pollination is done only among final selected parent plants. Repeat the identical cross to produce many identical seeds.

2.3.   The seedling result can be very effective. Therefore I am able to set up multiple goals and accomplish multiple camellia breeding tasks such as very light colored reti hybrids, 25% reti hybrids, fragrant camellias, cold hardy camellias, C. azalea hybrids and the camellias with special coloration.

 3.    To speed up my seedling growth

3.1.   A large pair of utility scissors is used to cut open the hard shell carefully. Soak the seeds in water overnight. Peel off most of seed shell.

3.2.   Home germination of camellias using fish tankI germinate my seeds in a special mini green house converted from an empty tropical fish tank equipped with a growth light. The electrical heater is placed in a long and narrow pasta glass jar.

3.3.   I only use microwave heated perlite in clean pots. Each pot is individually enclosed with a transparent poly bag. When two small leaves appear, water soluble fertilizer fortified with trace minerals is applied. It is a care free method even though I do check each pot occasionally. No worry about watering, mould growth or temperature fluctuation.

Approach grafted seedling camellia plant3.4.   In March the seedlings can be up to 6 inches, which are ready for approach grafts. The grafted seedlings would reduce one or two years of waiting to see the first flowers.










New Greenhouses to speed up camellia growth

 3.5.   My newly built green house should speed up the seedling growth.





 Let me summarize the procedure of my camellia breeding. After I have decided my major direction for camellia breeding, I set up my goal with a mental picture.  Then I look very hard to select the most suitable parent plants. I pollinate the camellias in my warm living room. The seeds are germinated in my mini-green house. In March, the seedlings are ready for approach grafting.

Now I shall show you only a few of my new flowers:

'Nanshan Ziyu'


'Nanshan Ziyu' means “south mountain lavender Jade”

Yemingzhu’ means “glowing pearl in the dark”


 ‘Yaohuang Weizi'


Yaohuang Weizi' meaning “touch of yellow and purple”

'Nüerhong'   is a famous brand of rice wine in China

 ‘Xizi Xianghe’

 ‘Xuri Guanhong’

Xizi Xianghe’ means “Westlake fragrant lotus”

Xuri Guanhong’ means “morning sun through rainbow”

 ‘Jinsi Suxiu’


Jinsi   Suxiu’ means “Suzhuo Embroidery”

Longhuozhu’ means “Dragon Fireball”


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