Barry Di Salvia
Higo is a name given to a particular style of japonica camellia which has originated from the Higo province (now known as the Kumamoto prefecture) in Japan. Some experts believe them to have come from a deliberate cross between C.japonica and C.rusticana. True Higo camellias must be registered under the strict criteria of the Higo Camellia Society.
To register a new variety, the 5 member Higo Society Registration Committee observes it for five years to see the stability of the flower pattern, and there must be more than 100 plants available for sale at the time of registration.
A Higo bloom is usually a single with 5 to 9 petals and is flat or slightly saucer shaped. There is often a distinctly triangular shape to the bloom. While there is a full range of colours—whites, pinks, reds and brocades with their stripes and spots—pureness of colour is always demanded. Higo camellias have 100 to 300 yellow, white or pink stamens arranged, according to the variety, in one of two special ways—Ume-jin or Wa-jin. In both systems there is an outer ring (annulus) of stamens and the more stamens they have the more the variety is valued. The Japanese names given to Higos generally have interesting English translations—Yamato Nishiki translates as Supreme Brocade Silk Woven in Japan.
The Japanese name for the apricot “Prunus mume” is “Ume”. The Ume-jin arrangement of Higo stamens is similar to that of a bloom of this apricot, in which they separately flair out in the centre like a sunburst, with some stamens closer to the carpel (pistil). The Wa-jin arrangement has the stamens fused for a distance from the centre, which is then hollow. Wa-jin is regarded by some as intermediate between the original tubular stamen system and that of the Ume-jin system which is more valued in Higos. The ancient Yamato Nishiki and also Jitsugetsusei display the Ume-jin system, while Reiho and Showano-hikari have the Wa-jin Arrangement.
New Higos are still being produced. Tomoya Nishimura (now 88 years old ), in 1999 registered four new cultivars, one being a sport of Yamato Nishiki. Higos appear to be slowly becoming more popular in Australia, but are not easy to obtain unless you live close to Berry in NSW the late Terry Pierson had the the best collection of Higos in Australia and beyond and encouraged his local nursery to propagate many varieties. Terry also supported the Cowra Japanese Garden in their establishment of a Higo collection which he donated to them. Most of the photos are of blooms from Terry’s extensive collection at Mildorrie.
At Hume’s camellia show (Albury) the single japonicas have been divided into “Higo Style” and “Others”. The description of “Higo Style” has been given to blooms which have the form of a Higo, but have not originated in Kumamoto. Jim Powell’s Michelle Ford, Nuccio’s Happy Higo, Adelina Patty, Sassfras Zoe, Adelina Sargent and even some reticulatas Ruby Girl and Red Crystal can be of Higo Style, but true Higos only come from Higo Country and have been registered by the Higo Society.
The information in this article has been gleaned from several sources: “Higo Camellia…”, Franco Ghirardi; “the Higo Camellia”, an adaption of a lecture given to the Spanish Camellia Society by Shigeo Matsumoto found on ICS Website; “What Camellia is That?”, Stirling Macaboy; “The Ancient Camellias of Samurais”, <www.higocamellia.it/page6.html>.