The genus Camellia L. (Theaceae) has 119 to 280 species, the large range in estimated number of species due to very different taxonomic opinions. Historically only a relatively small number of Camellia species were considered to be native to the southern mountain regions of Vietnam. While the northern parts of Vietnam (e.g. the Tam Dao National Park and the adjacent geographical areas which are relatively close to the Chinese border) were traditionally considered to be the major centres of distribution of Vietnamese Camellia species.

However, recent systematic exploration carried out by a team of scientists on the Da Lat Plateau and the Lang Biang Massif discovery of several new Camellia taxa, some of which have already been published. The most recently discovery, new species to science from Lam Dong Province was described as name:  Camellia oconoriana Orel, Curry & Luu, sp. nov. by scientists team from Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney and Southern Institute of Ecology. The discovery of this new species, Camellia oconoriana, in the south of Vietnam not only confirms the floral richness of this geographical area but also further establishes it as an important centre of Theaceae genetic diversity and the possible northern boundary of the hypothesised area of origin for genus Camellia.

Camellia oconoriana is a perennial, medium to large evergreen shrub to 7.5 m high; sometimes multi-stemmed, sparsely branched. The juvenile leaves very narrow elliptic, margins without serrations, slightly undulate, soft and pendulous, dull, of soft lilac colour, midrib also dull, but brightly lilac-pink; mature leaves very narrowly elliptic to narrowly elliptic, irregularly, shallowly and sparsely serrate, unevenly undulate, 30–36.5 cm long, 8–8.5 cm wide. Flowers is pedicellate, 30–40 mm long, distally up to 6 mm wide, pendulous, glabrous, light green to pink, with 1–3 small bracteoles, 1–2 mm long, 1–2 mm wide; flowers always axillary, solitary or in twos; flower buds pendulous, globose to ovate with blunt apex, yellow with green and light pink areas; adult flowers 50–60 mm diameter, light to mid yellow, with dark pink-lilac to purple blush on the petal margins. Juvenile fruit capsules light green and shiny; mature fruit mid brown, not shiny, unevenly round, distinctly oblate, style remnants persistent, 4–5-lobed, with chambers that are not always bi-locular, 4–5.5 cm diameter, c.2.5 cm deep.

Flower of Camellia oconoriana in Lam Dong Province (Photo: Anthony Curry)

Camellia oconoriana occurs in a mountainous, tall, wet, subtropical rainforest, where it forms part of a dense understorey layer, enduring low light and high humidity conditions in nutrient-poor soils. It is known only from the type collection from the lower slopes of an the mountain in Lam Dong Province. Tree flower in November. Fruiting and seeding in February to March.

IUCN Red List Category. The type specimen was collected from a population of some 10 adult plants which covered an area of less than 1 km2. Juvenile plants or seedlings were not found. Despite a detailed search of the area around the type locality only one population was discovered. Given this situation, this species was considered the IUCN category of Critically Endangered (CR D).

Van Bang/SIE

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