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So what is Satsuki?

Satsuki Background

Satsuki azalea’s are a very special and unique group in the Azalea family. It is believed they originated as natural hybrids from two species (R.indicum & R.tamurae) that grow in a relatively isolated area of Southern Japan. These hybrids were collected and have been bred with other species and hybridised since the 1600’s. This long history of breeding has resulted in over 3000 varieties with flowers varying in size from 1cm up to 12cm. Originally the Satsuki were bred and grown as garden plants however over the last 100 years they have been more specifically bred for the purpose of bonsai training. The Japanese word “Satsuki” translates as fifth month ,which is when they flower in Japan.

In Australia ,the Satsuki group flower in late Spring through to early Summer after the more common Indica’s and Kurume Azalea groups have finished flowering. Satsuki flower profusely with an incredible range of flower sizes , shapes and colour shades .Whilst some Satsuki varieties have flowers of a single colour others produce different coloured flowers and also different shaped flowers all on the one tree. Satsuki are hardy, easy to grow, have small leaves and an ability to re-shoot when cut back. These attributes make Satsuki excellent subjects for the art of bonsai training. Satsuki can be trained into most bonsai styles including ,informal uprights, cascades, exposed roots and even forest groups.

Satsuki should be placed in a part shade position during the Summer and prefer to be kept just moist, not wet, when surface starts to dry , water thoroughly. Repot in early Spring or immediately after flow-ering. A deep pot with well draining soil mix is preferred, but avoid overpotting. Can be displayed in-doors during the flowering period for up to 3 weeks. For more information please get in contact.

More on Satsuki

Some general knowledge of the whole Azalea family creates a better understanding of what Satsuki are and their place in the azalea world. It also helps to have an understanding that all plants have a “Common Name “ (which differs in each country) and all plants also have a “Botanical Name” (A Genus followed by the species, both in Latin, which remains the same, the world over) For example “Peppermint Gum” is a common name Its botanical name is “Eucalyptus nicholii” which is its “Genus & species”.

Rhododendrons & Azaleas belong to a huge and diverse family of mainly evergreen, flowering shrubs that all fall under the same Botanical Genus name of Rhododendron. For example – The small bush commonly known as “Thyme Leaf Azalea” is botanically known as “Rhododendron serpyllifolium”. This is quite confusing for some people, however all one really needs to understand is that the Botanical name or “Genus” is Rhododendron for every Azalea. Ok, now that’s out of the way, Rhododendron species grow all over the world, North America, China, The Himalayas, New Guinea and even tropical Australia has a species. Many of the Rhododendron species, that are commonly known as Azaleas, that are grown in the west, originated in Japan. The Japanese have been collecting Azaleas and interbreeding their various species for centuries.

There are 3 main groups of Azaleas that originated in Japan. The Indicas – they are believed to have originated from “Rhododendron simsii” and were one of the first Azalea’s to be grown in Europe. These were originally cross bred and hybridised in Belgium where many new varieties were created at the beginning of the last century. These varieties spread all over the world as mainly garden plants and are still today the most common Azaleas to be found in gardens the world over. The indica’s are fast growing medium to large shrubs usually with large, single flowers. The In-dicas bloom in Spring.
The Kurumes – believed to have hybridised naturally from “Rhododendron kiusianum” crossing with “R.kaempferi” and also “R. obtusum” This breeding was continued by Japanese gardeners and these species were also taken to England early last century and from there introduced to the rest of the world. The Kurumes are smaller than Indicas and slower growing. They generally have smaller flowers and bloom throughout Spring. Kurumes make great pot plants & are often seen in supermarkets. Kurumes are also used for bonsai in japan but far less than the Satsuki species.

The Satsuki – believed to have hybridised naturally from “Rhododendron indicum” crossing with “R. tamurae”. These natural hy-brids were collected and further hybridised by keen Japanese growers at least since the early 1600’s. They were originally bred for gardens and pot culture however in the last century more specifically for bonsai. Satsuki are generally small shrubs with very di-verse flower colours, shapes and size’s. Satsuki are the last to bloom from late Spring to early Summer. Satsuki are generally known botanically as “Rhododendron indicum”

Australian nurseryman and the botanical gardens probably followed English and European horticultural trends and predominately imported the Indica group of Azaleas followed by the Kurume Azaleas. This is in stark contrast to countries such as The United States of America where major importation of Satsuki varieties began in the 1930’s. Nurseryman and public gardens have continued to import since. The Brookside Gardens alone introduced 387 varieties of Satsuki to the States in the late 1970’s. Even the specialist Azalea nurseries in Australia have mainly concentrated on the Indicas & The Kurumes predominately for use as garden plants. The exception to this is the Gumpos, which belong to the Satsuki group and became popular for a period as a useful addition to rockeries. As low spreading bushes Gumpos are not particularly suited to bonsai. Having said this, for as long as I can remember, there have always been a small amount of Satsuki varieties available in Australia from various sources.

This list of 41 Satsuki varieties marks a turning point in the availability of Satsuki in Australia. All are now available to purchase direct from the nursery as 2 to 4 year old starter stock. The varieties listed are some of the best for bonsai training however they also make great garden plants or as general pot plants. Bonsai Art also stock some advanced Satsuki starters with 12-25 year old pre bonsai starters of the varieties – Osakazuki, Chinzan, Kinsai and Shinkyo. As Satsuki make such excellent bonsai its not surprising interest has increased. The Victorian Satsuki Interest Group meets 4 times a year at Bonsai Art Nursery and has an annual exhibition every November (18th & 19th November 2017) Ph 03 9551 0725 for details. The Satsuki Society of Australasia Inc has also been created to encourage and help all Satsuki enthusiasts. Happy growing. Trevor