Camellias are coming into bloom in warmer zones. We think this happy moment calls for a bit of trivia to help us all get to know this remarkable, useful, and drop-dead gorgeous shrub just a bit better. (Did you know any of this? Tell us in the comment below!)
(Above)Kanjiro Camelliais aC. sasanquatype with a dense, semi-weeping habit. Not only does it bloom for months, but it’s flowers are wonderful for cutting.
FIRST, LET'S DO THE NUMBERS
3,000: About the total number of named kinds of Camellias.
2,000: Most of those areC. japonica.
250: Give or take a few, this is the number of known Camellia species.
5: Of those, these species are most commonly cultivated as ornamentals.
43: The number of cultivars we currently grow (likeC. japonica‘Pearl Maxwell’, left).
THEY ARE THE STUFF OF LEGEND
From To Kill a MockingbirdtoLa TraviataandThe Lady of the Camellias, the bloom’s symbolism of eternal love, kindness, and purity is so potent that they’ve had starring roles in movies, books, plays, and an opera.
The Camellia mentioned as ‘Snow on the Mountain’ inTo Kill a Mockingbirdis also known as‘White Doves’and ‘Mine-No-Yuki’ (left).
From Japan to Italy, Switzerland to Australia (and of course in the American south) there are more than 500 festivals around the globe devoted solely to the joy of looking at this romantic flower.
On our bucket list isThe Village of Camelliasnear Tuscany where one can see Camellias that are more than 100 years old. Can you imagine?
Camellias come in a remarkable range of colors (pink, white, red, striped, cream, etc.), forms (double, single, and in between), and sizes (ground covers to tall shrubs that can be made into small trees), buthave one universally admired trait–they are not typically browsed by deer.This is ‘Debutante’, an early-bloomingC. japonica.
Mature Camellias in old forests are known to reach more than 15 meters in height (that’s 50 ft. to you and me).
WITH A LITTLE BIT OF PLANNING...
…You could haveabundant blooms for 6 months!Camellia sasanqua types bloom earlier, typically starting in September right into late January. Camellia japonica types flower from December until April. Mix and match for a display that’ll be then envy of the neighborhood.
Below, we list a few of each type, chosen by our craftsmen who grow them for you.
PROVIDING BEAUTY AND CAFFEINE HIGHS FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS
The story of Camellias started around 2737 BC in China when the leaves of one type (Camellia sinensis) reportedly fell from a tree into boiling water and the Emperor flipped for the resulting brew.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that Camellias were widely imported into Europe and eventually to N. America. (This is ‘Chansonette‘, an early bloomingC. sasanqua)
EASY DOES IT
Though they are emphatically NOT divas, Camellias do have their likes.
They thrive in light shade (got a grove of pine trees with a high canopy and slightly acid soil? You’re in! If not, just make sure they get afternoon shade) and should be planted about 2 to 3 inches higher than the surrounding soil to allow the shrub to set its roots and sink in.
AND, FINALLY THERE'S COCO CHANEL
Why were Camellias the favorite flower of famed fashion designer Coco Chanel? She loved the simplicity of the shape but mostly it was because when wearing the flower (‘Alba Plena‘ to be exact), the lack of scent meant it never interfered with her most famous perfume – No. 5.
Sparkling white, formal, double blooms on this mid-season bloomingC. japonica. Up to 8′ tall and wide.
So, that’s just a shortlist of what makes this winter flowering shrub such as cherished addition to gardens. Camellias might rival roses for the most passed along of plants and it’s certainly easy to see why. If you have questions about Camellias please leave a comment below.
Here are a few other stories about Camellias you might enjoy: