Who wouldn’t turn their head to a garden filled with bright camellia blooms? May it be a screen or focal point to a landscape or cutflowers in a bouquet, the camellia, from its glossy foliage that can be turned into soothing and healing teas to its many-petaled flower that may mean purity or passion when given to a loved one, is bound to stand out.
Given the right care and growing conditions, the camellia plant will thrive and will definitely captivate one’s senses.
The camellia plant has been a staple in gardens not just in China, Japan, and Vietnam where it originated but in Europe and America where it has gained popularity as well (4).
This plant is named by the great Linnaeus after the Jesuit missionary, George Joseph Kamel or Camellia in recognition of his contributions to the field of pharmaceutical botany (3).
Camellia As An Ornamental Plant
Because of its success as an outdoor plant as well as its economic value, researchers and cultivators have shared a common interest and today, there are more than 200 identified species and over 40,000 cultivars of camellia. Camellia japonica, C. reticulata, and C. sasanqua Thunberg are among the species of great ornamental value.
Most species have their own unique and desirable characteristics and are highly used in hybridization to produce more attractive and climate adaptive varieties; C. petelotii for the yellow color as opposed to the more common white, pink, and red, C. lutchuensis for fragrance, and C. oleifera for frost-hardiness (5).
Some common hybrids include: ‘Debbie’ Camellia with rich deep rose-pink flowers in both peony and anemone form on the same bush, Camellia x ‘Buttermint’ with beautiful pale buttery-yellow semi-double flowers that brighten up any shade garden and ‘Fairy Blush’ camellia, a moderate growing shrub that only grows 4-5 feet tall with dainty single white flowers each blushed pink around the edges with showy stamens (6).
Camellia As A Culinary Plant
The camellia plant is not all about the looks, though. Belonging to the Theaceae or Tea Family, the camellia plant is historically grown for the production of tea. The most common species used in making the world famous beverage is the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and C. sinensis var. assamica which are widely distributed in China.
The young leaves and buds are harvested to be brewed into culinary and medicinal tea but aside from tea production, camellia plants are being utilized for oil extraction specifically, the seeds. Another species, the Camellia oleifera has the longest history of being cultivated for oil production as well as C. drupifera and C. reticulate (1).
Nowadays, most camellias are cultivated for their ornamental value. Although many cultivars now exist which are adapted to different growing conditions, several factors still need to be considered in order to successfully grow this plant.
Light and Climate
Most of the camellia species are native to China and although primarily subtropical, many cultivars can be grown in temperate regions especially the C. japonica cultivars (4).
In areas with more severe climates, it is recommended to grow them in greenhouses especially during winter. Camellias grow in semi-shade usually provided by tree canopies. As with most flowering plants, camellias need good light to form flower buds but the shade protects the flowers and leaves from extreme winds and rains (1).
The soil for this plant must be slightly acidic and should provide good drainage enough for root anchorage, air circulation, and water absorption.
Watering camellias should be monitored. They do not tolerate drought so ample water supply must be provided during the leaf and shoot development period, usually in the spring. In winter, camellias are dormant and should be moderately watered (1).
Fertilizers are also important to supply the necessary nutrients to the plant particularly nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, sulphur, and calcium (2). Fertilizer application on camellias in gardens should be 3 times a year and for potted ones, application should be every four to six weeks.
Planting and Maintenance
Camellias are considered tall shrubs which can reach up to nine meters in height. When growing them in gardens, it is also important to prune to keep them at the recommended height, usually about two meters. This will also remove dead materials allowing light and air to flow. To propagate camellias, several methods such as air layering, cutting, and the more successful grafting can be used (5).
(1) Bartholomew, Bruce. “The Chinese Species of Camellia in Cultivation.” Arnoldia, vol. 46, no. 1, 1986, pp. 2–15.
(2) Caser, M., et al. “Ethylene and the Postharvest Performance of Cut Camellia Flowering Branches.” Advances in Horticultural Science, vol. 29, no. 2/3, 2015, pp. 116–120.
(3) Cullum, Leo A. “Georg Joseph Kamel: Philippine Botanist, Physician, Pharmacist.” Philippine Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, 1956, pp. 319–339. JSTOR.
(4) (eFloras.org) Flora of China Vol. 12 Page 366, 367.
(5) Hakoda, Naotoshi, and Tran Ninh. “426. CAMELLIA FLAVA: Theaceae.” Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 18, no. 4, 2001, pp. 190–193.
(6) Le Strange, Michelle. “How to Grow Carefree Camellias.” Master Gardener Newspaper [University of California], 22 January 2009, p. A11.
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