Probably the most popular camellia in America is an old japonica called ‘Pink Perfection’. According to the Southern California Camellia Society’s Nomenclature, this old favorite camellia was imported into Sacramento, California from Japan in 1875. Before we began calling it ‘Pink Perfection’ in America, it was known in Japan as ‘Usu-Otome’. This variety also has been known as ‘Frau Minna Seidel’. Having several different names can easily confuse the nomenclature of a variety, and when one of those names happens to have “Otome” as part of the name, it can get extremely confusing.
There are many camellias that have “Otome” as part of their name. In Japan, the word “Otome” usually refers to a maiden, but there is another extremely important concept that is also attached to this name. Most of the varieties with the word “Otome” as part of their name are cultivars from Japan that are usually small to medium sized formal double varieties. According to the International Camellia Register, “It is also said that the name ‘Otome’ means ‘stop’ in Japanese, implying that it was too beautiful to sell or give away”. When doing an online search of the International Camellia Society’s Web Register for the name ‘Otome’, I found 60 different camellia cultivars with part of their name being ‘Otome’. It turns out that our beloved ‘Pink Perfection’ is one of those ‘Otome’ varieties, but by no means is it the only one.
In the Southeastern part of the United States, the confusion between ‘Pink Perfection’ and ‘Otome’ can become even greater. The old American Camellia Catalog lists a variety that is just known as ‘Otome’. It was introduced to America by Tsukasa Kiyono and his Kiyono Nurseries of Semmes, Alabama in 1911. This variety was one that Kiyono imported from his home county of Japan, and this cultivar was distributed to many gardens in the southeastern part of America. In the 1951 edition of the American Camellia Catalog, ‘Otome’ is described as “An imbricated, pink to rose-colored, double with outer portions of petals shading to white. Has fine veins of red. 3.5 inches in diameter by 1.5 inches in depth. Petals, notched at tops, 1.5 inches long, reduce in size towards center”. Like ‘Pink Perfection’, this variety is a pink formal double flower, but it has several noticeable differences. The flowers are slightly larger than ‘Pink Perfection’, and this cultivar’s flowers usually have very noticeable incurved and cupped petals. The plant of the variety simply known as ‘Otome’ is different from ‘Pink Perfection’ as well. The foliage of ‘Otome’ is a much darker green than that of ‘Pink Perfection’ Also, ‘Otome’ has two common sports, while ‘Pink Perfection’ has not been known to sport. One of the ‘Otome’ sports is a much darker solid pink, and the other one is a white with an occasional dark pink fleck or streak. We do not have any additional information regarding the ‘Otome’ that Kiyono imported, but that variety has been significantly disseminated under this name throughout the southeastern United States, and it should be accepted as a legitimate cultivar with that name.
Both ‘Pink Perfection’ aka ‘Usu-Otome’ and ‘Otome’ are awesome cultivars that have been grown in the southern states of America for many years. Although each variety is different from the other, both richly deserve their own unique place in the garden!
Gene Phillips is one of the owners of Gene’s Nursery in Savannah, Ga. He is a 2nd generation grower and attributes his love of Camellias to his father, who inspired him to breath in the beauty that they bring to him but more importantly to others. In his ‘free’ time, you’ll find him wandering through old gardens, trying to identify flowers or taking countless number of photos to share with others! He also enjoys meeting people and comparing ‘garden’ stories.