Botanical name: Camellia sasanqua
Trivia: Autumn Moon (syn. `Marie Kirk')(C. xhiemalis) is a locally grown chance seedling of Camellia sasanqua. Owner and Virginia Camellia Society member Arthur Kirk registered it with the American Camellia Society in 1999. It was named Marie Kirk after his wife, daughter, and grand daughter, but later commercially named Autumn Moon by Bennett's Creek Nursery, a wholesale grower in Suffolk, Virginia.
Kirk planted this camellia as a seed more than 20 years ago and the plant thrived against record Tidewater winters, proving its cold hardiness. The plant stands 20 feet tall now. He didn't know he had a new variety of a fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua until the late 1990s when he and Bob Black, then Virginia Camellia Society vice president, tried to identify the bloom and found no listing for a sasanqua with a medium-size formal double white bloom.
Growth habit: Vigorous (for a camellia) upright grower.
Size: slow grower, reaching 8 feet tall by 3 feet wide in six to eight years.
Foliage: Dark shiny and slightly waxy evergreen leaves with fine serrated edges.
Flowers: Abundant formal double white blooms with heart-shaped petals on each branch October-November. Petals fall to ground resembling fresh snow under the bush during bloom season.
Fruit: Seed pods resembling an apple, the size of a cherry tomato in shades of red, green, and brown. Seed pods form in the spring from a few of the previous fall blooms staying on the plant until fall when they open to shed a few seeds. Volunteers from seed are common but seldom produce a new varity of bloom and typically revert to the parent species with small mediocre five- to seven-petal blooms.
Exposure: Autumn Moon and sasanqua-type camellias in general can be planted in full sun or part shade.
Culture: Must have well drained moist ground but can accommodate soggy clay environments with proper soil preparation and modified drainage. Low feeding needs.
Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 6B (Peninsula is in Zone 7).
Uses: Focal point for fall color, accent for other contrasting fall bloomers, hedge, green screen or espaliered (trained) on a wall or trellis in full sun to part-shade locations.
Pruning: Takes pruning well but needs little because of its slow growth. Pruning once every other year as needed to keep desired size; prune late winter or early spring. Plant begins putting on new buds each June, so prune before this process begins.
Problems: Few pests other than occasional scale or mite. Root rot if kept in soggy environment. All problems easily eliminated with proper care and planting. Learn more at the camellia society's Web site -- http://www.vacamelliasociety.org/ -- or attend the society's free workshops at the botanical garden.
Source: Virginia Camellia Society and Bennett's Creek Wholesale Nursery
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