Plant in focus: Camellia

Plant in focus: Camellia

The Camellia is an evergreen flowering shrub. It originates in areas of Japan, Korea and China where it grows in woodland sites on peaty soils. It was introduced to the UK in 1739 as Camellia japonica. Camellia is from the Theaceae family; there are 220 known species and over 26,000 cultivars.

The main Camellia that you will find in the UK gardens is the Williamsii Hybrids. These were first introduced in Cornwall by John Charles Williams in 1923. They are now accepted to be the hardest and most reliable of the Camellia to grow in the UK. They are a hybrid of japonica and salvensis, which has led to a lot of hybridisations to rival that of the rose. This has given us a range of colours and flower types to be available to the gardener. The colour ranges from cream/ white through to dark pink and red. The flower size can be between 5 and 12cm in various forms, including semi-double, anemone form, formal double and single.

Other types of Camellias include Sasanqua which produces fragrant flowers during autumn and wintertime. Sinensis, which is a white flowering Camellia, the leaf, stem and bud when dried and fermented, are used for tea production. The Oleriferra, which produces seeds which are used in the manufacture of cooking oil and in cosmetics. Salvensis is a large evergreen variety found mainly in China. It produces a single white flower from October to November, mainly known for being a hybrid with japonica.

When establishing Camellia in a garden, choose a spot which is away from any cold winds and where it will be protected from morning frosts. It prefers acid soil but will grow in neutral. It is also an ideal plant for going into a container or growing in a conservatory. A Camellia needs very little pruning. Branches can be trimmed out if damaged, but leave this job until May. Any propagation can be done in summer from hardwood cuttings or layering. The best time to feed a Camellia is late spring into summer after flowering has finished. A feed which is suitable for ericaceous plants would be suitable. One which contains sequestered iron will also help feed the plant. Camellia is not susceptible to many issues; however, if the flowers start to go past their best and discolour on the plant, its best to remove them as there can be a risk of Camellia petal blight. This is not so much an issue with Camellia japonica, which will drop the flowers intact and Sasanqua, which will drop individual petals across the ground beneath them.

Some interesting Camellia facts.

  • In the 1880’s when a woman wore a white Camellia, it was to symbolize her commitment to women’s rights.
  • The destruction of prized Camellias was a subplot line to the story To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Camellia is the state flower of Alabama.
  • The 10th hole on the Augusta National golf course is named Camellia.
  •  Finally, it takes 200 grams of fresh leaf to produce 50 grams of tea leaf. Time to make a brew.

Posted 26th Feb 3:43pm