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Consumer Q's: Camellias and best birdhouse plans
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A female bluebird has captured a small moth to feed her hungry brood. Bluebirds eat many insect pests, making them a friend to farmers and gardeners. - photo by ARTY SCHRONCE/special

    Q: What is the difference between a sasanqua and a camellia?
    A: There are many species of camellias. The most popular camellia cultivated in Georgia is Camellia japonica. It is usually just called “camellia” or sometimes “Japanese camellia.” You may even hear a few people calling this species a “japonica,” although others may call flowering quince by that name. You may also see it listed in some reference books as “common camellia” because it is the one most commonly cultivated, although there is nothing common about its beauty.
    The second most popular species in our state is Camellia sasanqua. It goes by the common names “sasanqua camellia” or simply “sasanqua.”
    In truth, both of these species are technically camellias and may be referred to as such, but when people talk about a camellia without any qualifiers they usually mean Camellia japonica.
    Sasanquas generally have smaller leaves and flowers than their japonica cousins. They are also generally smaller in stature. They begin blooming in the fall and into the winter while main period of blooming for most Japanese camellias is winter into spring. There are many more varieties of Japanese camellias than sasanqua camellias or any other species of camellia.
    Other, less common, camellias you may consider growing are the tea-oil camellia (Camellia oleifera), a very cold-hardy species, the source of a high-quality cooking oil and a possible crop in Georgia’s future; tea plant (Camellia sinensis), the source of the tea we drink; reticulated camellia (Camellia reticulata), which has large blooms and is usually called by its botanical name; and other rarer species such as Camellia octopetala, Camellia obtusifolia, Camellia grijsii, Camellia handelii and Camellia fraterna.
    To add to the confusion, there are hybrids between different species of camellias. When it comes to determining lineage, sometimes you have to step back and enjoy the beauty without worrying about origins or pedigree.
    To learn more about camellias of all kinds, consider visiting Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, home of the American Camellia Society (www.americancamellias.com).
    You may also want to go to the North Georgia Camellia Society’s annual show at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org), Feb. 21–22 (1–5 p.m. and 9 a.m.–5 p.m.). The show features regional growers displaying their finest specimens in a juried competition.


    Q: Where can I find plans for a bluebird house? I know it needs to be certain dimensions to discourage starlings and house sparrows from invading. Is it true that bluebirds eat a lot of insects?
    A: For plans to construct and information about how to mount and where to place your bluebird house (also referred to as a nest box or nesting box), visit the website of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at http://georgiawildlife.com/node/269. You may also want to visit the website of the North American Bluebird Society (www.nabluebirdsociety.org) and click on “Fact Sheets” for more plans and information.
    Insects and spiders, including caterpillars, crickets, beetles and grasshoppers, comprise much of the bluebird’s diet, especially in summer. When these are not available, they eat small fruits such as those of dogwood, red cedar, holly, mistletoe, tupelo and sumac.


    If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (arty.schronce@agr.georgia.gov) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.

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