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Although too tender to be flowered outdoors in Britain, this remarkable camellia deserves mention. A single tree was noted by the forester C. P. Lau in October 1955, growing on Shing Mung near Kowloon in Hong Kong New Territories, at about 2,000 ft. Specimens collected on that occasion and a few months later were sent to Kew, where they were recognised by J. R. Sealy as a new species (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 81, pp. 181–3 (1956)).
The original tree, which had been coppiced, was about 10 ft high. Leaves shortly stalked, oblong-elliptic, to about 4 in. long and 15⁄8 in. wide, glossy and with the veins deeply impressed above. Flowers solitary, white, about 6 in. wide (sometimes wider in cultivation), borne at the ends of short shoots and subtended at the base by a many-scaled persistent involucre. Stamens numerous, united at the base, with golden anthers. They open in autumn and early winter. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 597.
The type-tree was for a long time thought to be unique, but some thirty wild plants are now known (Int. Camell. Journ., no. 16, pp. 38–9 (1984)).
Now widely grown in favourable climates, C. granthamiana has needless to say been crossed with other species, including C. japonica, but none so far raised is of much merit.
Synonyms: C. albogigas Hu
Shrub or tree 3–9 m. Branchlets grey, pubescent. Leaves leathery, 7–11.5 × 3–4.5 cm, elliptic to oblong or obovate, upper surface dark green, shiny and rugose, glabrous, lower surface pale green with brown glandular dots and some hairs along the midrib, six to eight secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins minutely serrate, apex acuminate to caudate; petiole 0.5–1 cm long, pubescent. Flowers axillary or subterminal, solitary, 10–14 cm diameter, subsessile. Bracteoles/sepals 12–17, persistent, grey-tomentose, outer bracteoles/sepals 0.4–0.8 cm long, inner bracteoles/sepals 3.5–4 cm long; petals 8–10, white, broadly obovate, 4.5–7 cm long, apex emarginate; stamens numerous, 2.5–3 cm long; ovary densely white-tomentose. Capsule subglobose, ~6 cm diameter, subtended by five persistent sepals, splitting via five valves. Flowering December to January, fruiting August to September of the following year (China). Ming & Bartholomew 2007. Distribution CHINA: eastern Guangdong. Habitat Forest between 100 and 300 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9–10. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Chang & Bartholomew 1984, Trehane 2007; NT194. Cross-reference S133.
Camellia granthamiana was famously known for many years as a solitary specimen found growing in Hong Kong’s New Territory in 1955, and it is probably from this one tree that most, if not all, cultivated material is derived, although it has since been located elsewhere on mainland China. In addition to its curiosity value, C. granthamiana is a beautiful tree, with many fine horticultural qualities including good foliage and magnificent ‘fried-egg’ flowers. Its downside is that it is not very hardy and requires greenhouse cultivation in all except the mildest parts of our area (Hudson 2004, Gao et al. 2005). It succeeds in Cornish gardens such as Tregrehan, and is cultivated in southern California (for example, at the Huntington Botanical Garden).