The survival of Camellia campanulata: lantern flowers in the forest

Mid 20th Century to Present 

Source Country: Vietnam and Cambodia

Wild Camellia Lantern Survives in the Forest-1_edited-1

Like brilliant party lanterns festooning the Vietnamese and Cambodian forests, the flowers of Camellia campanulata still blossom. This species is one of the

most magnificent of the tropical camellias. Here, in the Bu Gia Map area of Southern Vietnam, was once located a large American Airbase called Fire Support Base ‘Snuffy’, or ‘Djamap’ during the Vietnam War of the 1960s. The surrounding forest area was degraded during that era by napalm and plant defoliants such as the notorious ‘Agent Orange’. Evidence of the lasting damage remains in secondary forests of stunted trees, low shrubs and spaced clumps of bamboo.

Scrambling through this scrub, botanical explorers can still witness an amazing sight – shrubby forest camellias with adaxial leaves up to 38 centimetres long, bearing the most incredible pendant flowers. Camellia campanulata exhibits on average about six red to orange petals with creamy margins, fused for 13 to 15 millimetres into a cup. Its leaves exhibit prominent drip tips and sunken adaxial venation, enabling the plant to capture dim sunlight, and quickly channel moisture to avoid pathogen growth. Juvenule leaves are soft and pendulous to avoid heavy rain damage.

This species is testimony to the survival of many rare and endangered tropical camellias in South East Asia. While the defoliants no longer rain down from the sky, many tropical camellia species such Camellia campanulata are now imperilled by indiscriminate land clearing.

Source: From expedition notes and photography by Tony Curry, Theaceae Exploration Associates (Australia), during a visit to Vietnam in 2011, edited Stephen Utick. For further information on Camellia campanulata, see. Orel G and Curry A S,2015, In Pursuit of Hidden Camellias, 32 New Camellia Species from Vietnam and China, Artisan Printing Services, Sydney, Australia, pp. 162-165.

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