A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE GENUS CAMELLIA

By Bradford King –

There are as many as 280 camellia species.  They come from South East Asia with eighty percent originating in China. Commercially the most important is Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) whose new foliage is used to make tea.

Tea Plantation

Tea Plantation

Tea plant in bloom

Tea plant in bloom

Camellia oleifera is a very important agricultural plant especially in China where its seeds are pressed producing edible oil used for cooking. It has a nice white flower.

 C. Oleifera

C. Oleifera

In America the most important camellia species are C. sasanqua, C. japonica, C. reticulata and hybrids that are used as landscape garden plants.

Camellia sasanqua

Sasanquas are also referred to as “sun camellias” because they can be grown in full sun. They are the first camellias to blooming during the fall in Southern California. Typically they have many small to medium bright colorful flowers born on an evergreen small tree with small green foliage. They make excellent landscape plants with their evergreen foliage profuse blooms that produce a wonderful display in the garden.

Yuletide in full bloom

Yuletide in full bloom

There are several hundred varieties.  One of the most popular is ‘Yuletide’ which has a single brilliant red flower bright yellow stamens that tends to bloom in the holiday season.

Yuletide

Yuletide

A number of sasanquas have single white flowers with a pink edges such as ‘Apple Blossom’, ‘Narumigata’, ‘Old Glory’, ‘Painted Desert’ and ‘Rainbow’.

Narumigata

Narumigata

There are white, pink, red varieties that have semidouble, peony and double flowers.

Double Rainbow and French Vanilla

Double Rainbow and French Vanilla

Bonanza

Bonanza

Many have a sweet musky scent such as ‘Bert Jones’.

Bert Jones

Bert Jones

For more information see the Camellia Sun Camellia Book published by the Southern California Camellia Society and visit the web site articles Fall Blooming Camellias and Sun Camellias.

Camellia Japonica

These are the most popular and widely grown camellias in America because they thrive in fifty percent shade , are evergreen and have beautiful flowers that bloom during the winter months when few other plants are in bloom.  There are literally thousands of japonica varieties with multiple colors, forms and growth habits.  A few of the most popular are shown here. A single form camellia has five to seven petals with a cluster of central stamens. This is illustrated by the single red flower with a white genetic border of ‘Tama No Ura’ (Photo of ‘Tama No Ura’)

Semidouble flowers are the most common japonica form. They are characterized by two or more rows of petals with conspicuous stamens.  This is illustrated by ‘Katie’ a very large coral pink flower. (Photo of ‘Katie’) There are two peony camellia forms. They are characterized by having around 30 petals forming a deep rounded flower that resembles a peony. The loose peony flower has loose petals with stamens that intermingle among the petals sometimes also having petaloids and stamens in the center of the bloom. This is illustrated by the small bloom of ‘Maroon And Gold.’ (Photo of ‘Maroon and Gold’).  The full peony form has a convex mass of mixed petals and petaloids with little or no visible stamens. (Photo of Debutante’). Ten percent of japonicas have the anemone form which is characterized one or more rows of outer guard petals that may lay flat or undulate around a central mass of convex petals, petaloids and stamens. It may resemble a full peony flower with guard petals. This is illustrated by ‘Rudolph’ which has a red medium sized camellia named for Rudolph the red nose reindeer. (Photo of ‘Rudolph)  The Rose Form double get its name from the hybrid tea rose that initially has a tight cluster of petals with a bud center with the flower opening over a few days showing stamens in a concave center.  In its initial form it closely resembles a formal double flower. (Photo of bud form and a second open of ‘Glen 40’) A formal double flower has many rows of overlapping petals that never show stamens. The center is usually comprised of tightly furled petals as is seen in the photo of ‘Sawada’s Dream’.  Formal double flowers are the most complex and are both male and female sterile. Many people find them the most beautiful of all the camellias. (Photo of’ Sawada ‘s Dream’)

Camellia Reticulata

This species came from Yunnan China in 1948 to Descanso Garden in La Canada California.  They generally have large and very large beautiful flowers borne on a small vigorous open growing tree with green foliage that is heavily veined. Today there are a thousand reticulata and reticulata hybrids that have been introduced in America.  They are usually grown by camellia hobbyist and are one of the species whose flowers are entered at camellia shows. They have a wide range of colors, flower forms, sizes, and growth habits but there are no striped or genetic white markings on their flowers and very few white reticulata blooms.  The last fifteen years the most popular variety grown in America has been ‘Frank Houser’. (Photo of ‘Frank Houser’)

The last three years its virus variegated form has taken over first place at camellia shows. (Photo of ‘Frank Houser Variegated’)  One of the most handsome plants with a very large beautiful soft pink flower is ‘Barbara Goff’ (photo of ‘Barbara Goff’)

In the garden we can enjoy c .reticulata cultivars among other camellias and plants (Photo of ‘Frank Houser’ and ‘Curtain Call’ in the landscape.

Non-reticulata Hybrids

When camellia species are inter bred, they are classified as hybrids. Those hybrids with c. reticulata in their lineage are group with the reticulata– all others are grouped here.  The first hybrids were between C. saluenensis and C. japonica.  These hybrids are characterized by small leaves, small to medium flowers, tend to set buds when young and have many flowers. They are often referred to as Williamsaii hybrids named for John Charles Williams who was the first breeder of these crosses. Today there are at least three hundred and fifty hybrids in America. The crosses include at least a dozen different camellia species. This has produced fragrant, yellow, cold hardy, and cluster blooming cultivars as well as extending the range of colors to include very dark red, coral and lavender pink. There is a wide range of flower and growth habits depending upon the species involve.

Two of the most popular and wieldy distributed saluenensis hybrid are ‘Buttons ’N Bows’ and ‘Spring Daze’ (Photo of ‘Buttons ’N Bows and ‘Spring Daze’)

Perhaps the best cultivar with a coral pink flower is ‘Island Sunset’ (Photo of ‘Island Sunset’)

One highly rated Pitardii hybrid is ‘Nicky Crisp’ (Photo of ‘Nicky Crisp’)

A unique and lovely cross between Shishi Gashira X C. Yuhsienensis resulted in the cultivar ‘Yume’ (Photo of ‘Yume’)

There are articles on this web site with photos that illustrate fragrant and yellow hybrid camellias.

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