Daikagura and its sports have been favorites with camellia growers since the early 20th century for a number of reasons. First, the flowers are produced early, and over a fairly long period of time. Second, the flowers are good sized, with colors that range from red to pink to white, all sports included. Finally, the plants are tolerant of a wide range of climatic conditions. The foliage is attractive and the leaves are deeply serrated. Unfortunately, the habit of growth is willowy and rather slow. Like other camellias that have been with us for a number of years, the Daikagura story from its beginning to the present is interestingly convoluted along the way, as individual camellia experts tried to piece together the facts necessary for proper classification.
According to the 1996 Camellia Nomenclature, Daikagura was developed at the Yokohama Nursery in 1891. Waterhouse (1948) found it listed for the first time in the 1895 edition of the nursery's catalogue. Pronunciation of this Japanese name, which means 'great sacred dance,' has presented many problems, hopefully not for Japanese speakers, but certainly for English speakers. There are several variations based on how people think the name should be pronounced, and be advised that your choice of pronunciation might be quickly corrected, depending on who is listening! The phonetic pronunciation guide in Sharp (1957) indicates that his pronunciation choice is dye kuh goor uh, with the accent firmly placed on the third syllable. However in the southeastern U.S., the favored pronunciation seems to be dye ka goor uh, with the accent on the second syllable and the 'a' in 'ka' sounding like the 'a' in cat. Take your pick of these and others.
Although I could not find the year that Daikagura actually reached the States, J. E. Youtz, Jr. (1949) remembered that his father purchased his first Daikagura plant in Pasadena about 1911. It was soon after this that years of confusion arose about Daikagura colors and names. The first recognized variety to sport from Daikagura, as listed in the 1996 Camellia Nomenclature, was Daikagura Red in 1936. But according to Waterhouse (1948), a white sport of Daikagura named Shiro-Daikagura was listed and described in the 1895 edition of the Yokohama Nursery catalogue! Could this be true? Youtz, Jr. (1949) described a transaction where his father in 1920 was given some camellia seeds from Japan by the owner of a nursery in Montebello, Calif. (apparently F. M. Uyematsu, owner of the Star Nursery). Youtz, Jr. went on to state that from these seeds his father developed several named varieties, including a white one his father named Youtz White Daikagura! Youtz White Daikagura, supposedly a seedling from unknown parentage, was subsequently named Joshua E. Youtz. But the Camellia Nomenclature lists Joshua E. Youtz as a Japanese flower imported by the Star Nursery in 1915! If Youtz White Daikagura was actually a seedling of Daikagura, what happened to the white Daikagura sport, Shiro-Daikagura, listed in the 1895 Yokohama Nursery catalogue? Fendig (1958), in his Daikagura family tree, listed Joshua E. Youtz as a Daikagura seedling, but what led him to that conclusion is unknown to me.
Gerbing (1943) described and pictured Daikagura as a solid rose-red flower and Daikagura Variegated as the rose-pink and white variety. Daikagura is also described as a red bloom on a 1930 camellia import list from the Star Nursery (Williams and Thompson 1950). Because camellia flowers are more commonly a solid color first and then subsequently variegated, it is easy to understand why Gerbing thought that Daikagura was the solid variety and not the reverse. Apparently this confusion was common through most of the 1940's (Waterhouse 1948).
In 1945, the Daikagura sport, High Hat, appeared. This bloom is light pink fading to white towards the edges of the petals. Soon, a reverse High Hat appeared (Whitfield 1950). This bloom, which is predominately white, was called Daikagura (Ward) or Ward's Daikagura. It is now known as just a heavily variegated strain of Daikagura. In 1955, Conrad Hilton, a white sport of High Hat, was registered. What? Another white Daikagura?
With all of the high tech genetic methods available today, we may one day solve the mystery of the White Daikagura. But while we are all waiting with bated breath, don't wait any longer to add members of the Daikagura family to your camellia collection. The flowers are beautiful, and you will probably be the first one on your block with Japonica blooms each fall!