For British Columbian readers, something with a little pink in it for today’s photo.
Higo camellias are known as the “flowers of the samurai“. Though samurai were warrior noblemen, during times of peace their other pursuits included gardening and the cultivation of plants. In Higo province, now Kumamoto Prefecture, their cultivation and selection endeavours led to the development of this distinct cultivar group. Forming a group of at least seventy cultivars (in present times), Higo camellias all share the property of having nearly free stamens that radiate outward from a flat base (compare against the partially united column of stamens in Camellia japonica ‘Ashiya’).
For several centuries, Higo camellias were bred and grown only by samurais and priests, to please those with privilege enough to be invited to see them. Eventually, they began to symbolize courage and steadfastness (e.g., for blooming in the winter), qualities associated with the samurai. It became tradition to plant Higo camellias at the graves of samurais, such that the fallen blossoms would adorn the sites. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, samurai began to disappear, and with them, the cultivation of Higo camellias. In 1958, the Higo Tsubaki Koyokai was formed, a society dedicated to revitalizing interest in ancient Higo cultivars and the breeding of new ones. It is from the graves of samurais that many ancient cultivars were propagated and introduced into broader cultivation.
To see other photographs of the plant at UBC, see this photograph of a late in the season plant, or Wendy Cutler’s photographs of camellias in the garden from March, 2015. Lastly, for those readers who work at the Garden, these are the flowers about to open in the vase on the lunchroom table.
(and, a note of thanks to Stirling Macoboy’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Camellias as a resource)