CAMELLIA

FAMILY: Theaceae

TYPE
  • Evergreen
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Partial Shade
WATER
  • Moderate Water
  • Regular Water
PLANTING ZONES
  • US (Upper South) / Zone 6
  • MS (Middle South) / Zone 7
  • LS (Lower South) / Zone 8
  • CS (Coastal South) / Zone 9
  • TS (Tropical South) / Zone 10
  • TS (Tropical South) / Zone 11

Plant Details

The South is the heart of camellia country. Indeed, common camellia (Camellia japonica) is Alabama's state flower. Although it seems these beautiful plants must have been born here, in truth they hail from eastern and southern Asia. More than 3,000 named kinds of camellias exist, in a remarkable range of colors, forms, and sizes; they are not usually browsed by deer.

If you live in the Upper or Tropical South and have problems growing camellias, take heart: you can now enjoy hybrids that flourish in the extremes of weather found in both regions. See Hardy hybrids (page 213).

The following pages offer a brief discussion of camellias' cultural requirements and describe some lesser-known species, as well as old favorites and new selections. The plant descriptions also include cultural needs unique to individual species and selections.

C. xhiemalis. Formerly considered a separate species, this group of hybrids involving C. sasanqua is noted for bushy, compact growth habit. Often called dwarf sasanquas; many are low growing and spreading, although some are tall and upright. Examples include the following (all have 2- to 212-in. blossoms):

'Bonanza'. Upright, strong grower, 310 ft. tall and 36 ft. wide. Red flowers of loose peony form.

'Chansonette'. Vigorous, spreading growth to 6 ft. high, 8 ft. wide. Large, bright pink formal double flowers with frilled petals.

'Kanjiro'. Upright plant to 15 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide. Single to semidouble blossoms in rose-pink edged with red.

'Shishi-Gashira'. One of the most useful and ornamental shrubs. Low growing (4 ft. high and 8 ft. wide), with arching branches that in time pile up tier on tier to make a compact, dark green, glossy-leafed plant. Leaves rather small for camellia, giving medium-fine foliage texture. Flowers are rose-red, semidouble, heavily borne over long seasonOctober through March in a good year. Takes considerable sun.

'Showa-No-Sakae'. To at least 8 ft. high, 12 ft. wide. Faster growing, more open than 'Shishi-Gashira'; willowy, arching branches. Semidouble to double flowers of soft pink, occasionally marked with white. Try this as an espalier.

'Showa Supreme'. Very similar to 'Showa-No-Sakae' but has somewhat larger flowers of peony form.

'Sparkling Burgundy'. Upright, slow grower to 510 ft. tall and 36 ft. wide, with narrow leaves and deep pink peony-form flowers. Very early.

C. japonica. COMMON CAMELLIA. This is the plant most gardeners have in mind when they speak of camellias. Naturally a large shrub or small tree but variable in size, growth rate, and habit. Hundred-year-old plants reach 20 ft. high and equally wide, and even larger specimens exist. However, most gardeners can consider japonicas to be shrubs 612 ft. high and wide. Just a few are lower growing.

The following list describes japonica selections that are favorites among Southern gardeners. Included here are a number of old standbys whose beauty belies their age. Some of them are among the oldest camellias still in commerce, having been brought to Europe and the U.S. from China and Japan in the 19th century or even earlier (these venerable camellias are noted by date of introduction in the text).

Those described as hardy will survive temperatures as low as 05F. Most camellias get flambed in the Tropical South, but the following heat-tolerant japonicas perform well as far south as Fort Myers and West Palm Beach in Florida: 'Alba Plena', 'Debutante', 'Gigantea', 'Lady Clare', 'Mathotiana', and 'Professor Charles S. Sargent'. You can even try them in Miami, though you'll have to grow them in pots because of the alkaline soil there.

The list specifies season of bloom as early, midseason, or late. In the Coastal South, early is November and December; midseason is January and February; late is March. In the Lower South, early is December and January; midseason is February and March; late is March and April. In the Middle South, early is February; midseason is March and April; late is April and May. In the Upper South, early is March; midseason is April; late is May. Flower size is also noted for each selection. Very large blooms are over 5 in. wide; large, 45 in.; medium-large, 3124 in.; medium, 3312 in.; small, 2123 in.; and miniature, 212 in. or less.

'Adolphe Audusson' (1877). Midseason. Very large, dark red semidouble flowers, heavily borne on a medium-size, symmetrical, vigorous shrub. Hardy. 'Adolphe Audusson Variegated' is identical, but its blossoms are heavily marbled with white on red.

'Alba Plena' (1792). Early. Brought from China over two centuries ago and still a favorite. Large, white formal double. Slow, bushy growth. Early bloom is a disadvantage in cold or rainy areas; protect blossoms from rain and wind.

'Berenice Boddy'. Midseason. Medium, light pink semidouble blooms with deeper shading. Vigorous, upright growth. One of the hardiest.

'Carter's Sunburst'. Early to late. Large to very large flowers, semidouble to peony form to formal double, in pale pink striped with deeper pink. Medium-size, compact plant.

'C. M. Wilson'. Early to midseason. Sport of 'Elegans' and identical to it except for its pale pink flower color. 'C. M. Wilson Variegated' has white petal markings; many plants sold as 'C. M. Wilson' are actually the variegated form.

'Daikagura' (1891). Early to late. Large, rose-red peony-form blooms on a dense, upright bush. Very long bloom season. 'Daikagura Variegated' is similar but has rose-red blossoms marbled in white.

'Debutante'. Early to midseason. Medium-large, light pink peony-form flowers. Profuse bloomer. Vigorous upright growth. Takes some sun.

'Elegans' ('Chandler'); also sold as 'Francine' ('Chandleri Elegans Pink') (1831). Early to midseason. The founder of a large and growing family of sports. The original plant is slow growing and spreading, bearing large anemone-form blossoms in rose-pink; center petaloids are often marked with white. More frequently grown is 'Elegans Variegated', identical except for white variegation on all petals; it is often known simply as 'Chandleri Elegans'. 'Elegans Supreme' is like 'Elegans' with the addition of deep serrations on petal edges. 'Elegans Champagne' is a white sport of 'Elegans Supreme' with creamy central petaloids. 'Elegans Splendor' has white-margined, pale pink petals with fringed edges. For other sports in the 'Elegans' family, see 'C. M. Wilson' and 'Shiro Chan'.

'Gigantea'. Midseason. Enormous, semidouble red blooms marbled with white. Vigorous plant.

'Glen 40' ('Coquetii'). Midseason to late. Large, deep red formal double. One of the best red camellia blooms for corsages. Slow, compact, upright growth. Plant is handsome even out of bloom. Hardy; very good container plant.

'Governor Mouton'. Midseason. Upright. Medium, semidouble or loose peony-form flowers are red marked with white. Hardy.

'Guilio Nuccio'. Midseason. Considered by many to be the world's finest camellia. Coral- rose, very large semidouble flowers of unusual depth and substance have inner petals fluted in rabbit ear effect. Vigorous, upright growth. Forms with variegated, fringed blossoms are available.

'Herme' ('Jordan's Pride') (1875). Midseason. Medium-large, pink semidouble flowers irregularly bordered in white and streaked with deeper pink. Sometimes bears solid pink blooms on certain branches. Free blooming and dependable.

'Jacks'. Midseason. Medium-large, deep pink, formal double flowers. Compact grower to just 6 ft. tall and half as wide in 10 years.

Kramer's Supreme'. Midseason. Full peony-form, very large flowers in deep, clear red. Some people can detect a faint fragrance. Compact, upright, unusually vigorous. Takes some sun.

'Kumasaka' (1896). Midseason to late. Medium-large, rose-pink, rose-form double to peony-form flowers. Vigorous, compact, upright growth and remarkably heavy flower production make it a choice landscape plant. Hardy. Takes morning sun.

'La Peppermint'. Early to midseason. Medium, rose-form double flowers are white or palest pink, prominently striped in red. Some blooms may revert to solid red. Bushy, upright grower.

'Lady Clare' ('Akashigita'). Early and midseason. Dense, rounded, vigorous. Large, semidouble deep pink blooms. Hardy.

'Lady Vansittart'. Midseason to late. Moderate growth; upright form. Medium, semidouble white flowers are streaked to varying degrees in shades of rosy red, giving the look of several different flower colors on a single plant. Hardy.

'Magnoliiflora' (1886). Midseason. Medium, pale pink semidouble flowers are borne profusely, make good cut flowers. Medium-size plant with compact yet spreading form. Hardy.

'Mathotiana' (1840s). Midseason to late. Very large rose-form double to formal double blooms in deep crimson, sometimes showing a purplish cast. Vigorous, upright grower. Tolerates cold and stands up well in hot-summer regions.

'Mrs. Charles Cobb'. Midseason to late. Large, deep red semidouble to peony-form flowers. Free blooming. Compact plant with dense foliage; best in warmer areas.

'Nuccio's Cameo'. Early to late. Medium to large, formal double flowers in light pink to coral pink. Bushy, upright grower with a very long bloom season.

'Nuccio's Gem'. Midseason. Medium to large, white, perfectly formed formal double. Strong-growing, full, upright plant.

'Nuccio's Jewel'. Midseason to late. Large flowers in loose to full peony form are white with pink petal edges.

'Nuccio's Pearl'. Midseason. Full formal double, medium blossoms are white with a rim of deep pink outer petals.

'Paulette Goddard'. Midseason. Vigorous and upright. Medium, semidouble or loose peony-form blossoms in deep red. Quite hardy and tough.

'Pink Perfection' ('Otome'). Early to late. Erect to spreading. Small, pale pink formal double flowers. Hardy.

'Prince Eugene Napoleon' ('Pope Pius IX') (1859). Midseason. Cherry-red, medium-large formal double. Medium-size, compact, upright plant.

'Professor Charles S. Sargent' ('Professor Sargent'). Midseason. Compact and upright. Medium-size, dark red anemone-form flowers with ruffled petals in the center. Hardy.

'Purity' (1887). Late. White, medium flowers, rose-form double to formal double, usually showing a few stamens. Vigorous, upright plant. Late bloom means it often escapes rain damage.

'Reine des Fleurs'. Midseason, semi-double, deep pink blooms. Reputed to be one of the first camellias planted in the South by famed botanist Andre Michaux at Middleton Place in Charleston, but this is disputed.

'Rev. John C. Drayton'. Late. Moderate grower. Medium, semidouble bright carmine-rose blossoms. Hardy.

'R. L. Wheeler'. Late. Very large, rose-red, semidouble flowers. Hardy.

'Sea Foam'. Late. Large, white formal double flowers. Upright, large plant.

'Shiro Chan'. Early to midseason. A sport of 'C. M. Wilson' with identical habit and flower form. Blossoms may open palest pink, fading to white blushed with pink at petal bases. 'Snow Chan' is a pure white sport.

'Silver Waves'. Early to midseason. Large, white semidouble blooms with wavy petal edges.

'Swan Lake'. Midseason to late. Very large white flowers with formal double to peony form. Vigorous, upright growth.

'Tama-no-ura'. Early to midseason. Small, single flowers are red with a prominent white edge. Vigorous, upright, somewhat open grower.

'Tiffany'. Midseason to late. Very large blossoms in warm pink; rose-form double to loose, irregular semidouble. Vigorous, upright shrub.

'Tom Knudsen'. Early to midseason. Medium to large blooms in dark red with deeper red veining. Formal double to peony-form to rose-form double.

'Ville de Nantes'. Midseason to late. Large semidouble flowers have white-blotched, deep red petals with fringed edges. Bushy, slow-growing plant. 'Lady Kay' is a sport with full peony form.

'Wildfire'. Early to midseason. Medium, orange-red semidouble flowers on a vigorous, upright plant.

C. oleifera. TEA-OIL CAMELLIA. Large shrub or small tree to 20 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide, with glossy, dark green leaves and fragrant, 2-in. white flowers in fall. Specific name oleifera means oil bearing; oil extracted from the large seeds has been used in China for cooking or as a hair conditioner. Possibly the hardiest of all the camellias.

C. reticulata. NETVEIN CAMELLIA. Some of the biggest and most spectacular camellia flowers occur in this species, and as likely as not they appear on some of the lankiest and least graceful of camellia plants.

Plants differ somewhat according to selection, but gen- erally speaking they are rather gaunt, open shrubs that eventually become trees of considerable sizepossibly 3550 ft. tall. In gardens, consider them 10-ft.- tall shrubs, 8 ft. wide. Leaves are also variable but tend to be dull green, leathery, and strongly net veined.

Culture is similar to that of other camellias, except that these plants seem intolerant of heavy pruning. This, with their natural gawkiness and size, makes them difficult to place in the garden. They are at their best in light shade of old oaks, where they should stand alone with plenty of room to develop. They look good in containers while young but are not handsome there out of bloom. Develop better form and heavier foliage in open ground. These camellias are less hardy than C. japonica (not recommended for the Upper or Middle South). In Lower South, grow in containers so you can move them into winter protection, or plant beneath an overhang or near a wall.

Best-known kinds have large (4- to 6-in.) semidouble flowers with deeply fluted and curled inner petals. These inner petals give great depth to the flower. All bloom from late winter to early spring. The following are the best choices for garden use.

'Buddha'. Very large rose-pink flowers; inner petals unusually erect and wavy. Gaunt and open; grows fast.

'Butterfly Wings'. Rose-pink, loose semidouble flower of great size (reported as large as 9 in. across), with broad, wavy petals. Open, rather narrow plant.

'Captain Rawes'. Reddish rose-pink semidouble flowers of large size. Vigorous bushy plant with good foliage. Hardiest of reticulatas.

'Chang's Temple'. True selection bears large, open-centered, deep rose flowers, with notched, fluted center petals. 'Cornelian' is sometimes sold as 'Chang's Temple'.

'Cornelian'. Large, deep, loose peony-form flowers with wavy petals; rosy pink to red, heavily variegated with white. Vigorous plant with big leaves that are usually marked with white. This plant is often sold as 'Chang's Temple' or as 'Lion Head'. (The true 'Lion Head' is not found in American gardens.)

'Crimson Robe'. Very large, bright red semidouble flowers. Firm textured, wavy petals. Vigorous plant of better appearance than most other reticulatas.

'Purple Gown'. Large, purplish red peony-form to formal double flowers. Compact plant with best growth habit and foliage in the group.

'Shot Silk'. Large, loose semidouble flowers of brilliant pink with iridescent finish that sparkles in sunlight. Fast, rather open growth.

'Tali Queen'. Very large, deep reddish pink flowers of loose semidouble form with heavily crinkled petals. Plant form and foliage are very good. This selection is often sold as 'Noble Pearl'; true 'Noble Pearl' is not available in the U.S.

C. sasanqua. SASANQUA CAMELLIA. Though often dismissed as those other camellias by Southerners smitten with the huge blooms of C. japonica, sasanqua camellias deserve better. True, their flowers are smaller, but the plants offer many advantages over common camellias. They tolerate more sun, more heat, and a wider range of soils, and their looser habit and smaller leaves make them easier to incorporate into a landscape. In form, they vary from upright and treelike to bushy and spreading; heights range from 6 to 15 ft. Glossy, dark green leaves are 112312 in. long, about a third as wide. The plants bloom heavily from late summer through autumn and into winter, depending on the selection, bearing single, semidouble, or double flowers that are sometimes lightly fragrant. Blossoms typically come in pink or white, but there are also some reds. Individual blooms last only a short time, but they're so numerous that the show goes on for months.

Established sasanqua camellias tolerate drought, but those growing in full sun need more water. They make excellent espaliers, tall screens, informal hedges, and bonsai specimens, as they accept frequent pruning. Upright selections can be pruned into standards (single trunks). Sasanquas are not as hardy to cold as common camellias; gardeners in the Upper South should plant them in spots protected from winter wind and sun or grow them in cool greenhouses.

'Apple Blossom'. Medium single white flowers blushed with pink, from pink buds. Spreading plant.

'Autumn Moon'. Medium formal double flowers are white. Growth is bushy, upright and narrow, making it a good hedging plant.

'Autumn Sentinel'. Small, double, pale pink blooms are striking against the deep green, narrow leaves. Fast grower with a narrow, slender habit; good as specimen or hedge.

'Bella Rouge'. Red, semi-double flowers on plants 4-5 ft. tall and wide. Ideal for specimen or hedge.

'Cleopatra'. Large, rose-pink semidouble flowers with narrow, curving petals. Growth is erect, fairly compact. Takes clipping well. Very hardy.

'Hana Jiman'. Large semidouble flowers, white with pink edges. Fast and open growth; good espalier.

'Jean May'. Large double blossoms in shell pink. Compact, upright grower with exceptionally glossy foliage.

'Midnight Lover'. Large, darkest red, semidouble blooms. Vigorous and upright.

'Mine-No-Yuki' ('White Doves'). Large white flowers of full peony form. Spreading, willowy growth; effective espalier.

'Narumi-gata'. Large, cupped, single flowers, white tinged pink.

October Magic series. Bred in Fairhope, Alabama, this group includes sturdy landscape plants that offer a variety of colors and plant forms. 'Bride' blooms white, grows 4-6 ft. tall and wide; 'Dawn' blooms doubled in shades of pale pink, growing into a conical form 4-6 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide; 'Inspiration' blooms white with a magenta edge, grows upright 6-8 ft. tall and 4-5 ft. wide; 'Orchid' blooms with a pink blush and grows 3-5 ft. tall and wide; 'Rose' blooms vivid pink and grows remarkably upright at 6-8 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide; 'Ruby' blooms doubled and red, growing 4-5 ft. tall and wide; 'Snow' blooms fully doubled white and grows 5-7 ft. tall wide.

'Setsugekka'. Large, white semidouble flowers with fluted petals. Blossoms have considerable substance; cut sprays hold well in water. Upright and rather bushy shrub.

'Tanya'. Small single flowers in deep rose-pink. Tolerates much sun. Low-growing, spreading plant. Good ground cover.

C. sinensis (Thea sinensis). TEA PLANT. Dense, rounded shrub is grown in Asia as the commercial source of tea, but in the South it is an ornamental. Reaches 15 ft. tall and wide, with leathery dark green leaves to 5 in. long. Blooms in fall, bearing scented white flowers to 112 in. wide. Takes well to pruning; can be trimmed into a hedge. 'Blushing Maiden' bears nodding pink flowers; 'Teabreeze' offers fragrant white blooms.

C. xvernalis. A group of sasanqua hybrids noted for later bloom (all flower in late fall and winter), denser growth, shinier foliage, and firmer-textured flowers. Most reach about 9 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. They take the same care as sasanquas and are often sold as such.

'Dawn'. Small, single to semidouble white flowers blushed pink. Dense, upright shrub of unusual hardiness.

'Egao'. Large, semidouble deep pink flowers that do not shatter easily. Pendulous branches make it good for espalier.

'Hiryu'. Small, deep red, rose-form double blooms on a dense, upright plant. 'Hiryu Nishiki' has white markings on flowers.

'Shibori Egao'. Medium, pink, semidouble blooms are heavily splashed with white. Leaves may show yellow splotches. Full and upright.

'Star Above Star'. Medium semidouble flowers in white shading to lavender-pink. Upright and bushy; may reach 1020 ft. tall and wide.

'Yuletide'. Profusion of small, brilliant red single flowers on a dense, upright, compact plant. Blooms in late December.

HYBRID CAMELLIAS. Several categories of hybrids, described here, have been produced.

Medium-flowered hybrids. The first wave of hybridizing involved C. japonica and C. saluenensis. The resulting hybrids, most of them medium to large shrubs, are of generally good garden form, with foliage like that of C. japonica and abundant flowers. See C. japonica for explanations of bloom season and flower-size terminology.

'Coral Delight'. Midseason. Large, coral-pink semidouble flowers form garlands along the branches. Slow grower.

'Crimson Candles'. Early. Rose-red blooms open from deep red buds that extend the color show as they mature. Strong-growing, upright, disease-resistant plant.

'Donation'. Midseason. Large semidouble flowers in orchid pink are borne all along stems. Vigorous, upright, compact plant with slightly pendulous branches; blooms young and heavily. Quite resistant to cold and sun. Appreciates a little shade in hot, dry areas. There is a form with variegated flowers.

'E. G. Waterhouse'. Midseason to late. Formal double of excellent form. Light pink, medium flowers heavily produced on vigorous, upright shrub.

'Fragrant Pink'. Midseason. An exception in that it is a cross between C. j. rusticana and C. lutchuensis. Loose peony-form flowers on spreading bush. Flowers are small, deep pink, very fragrant.

'Freedom Bell'. Midseason. Small to medium, semidouble, bell-shaped blooms of dark red open beneath branches.

'Jury's Yellow'. Early to late. Medium anemone-form blooms with ivory white outer petals, creamy yellow central petaloids. Compact, upright.

'Taylor's Perfection'. Midseason. Profuse show of large, light pink semidouble flowers.

Large-flowered hybrids. A second wave of hybridizing, involving C. japonica, C. reticulata, and C. sasanqua produced plants with more spectacular blossoms than the medium-flowered hybrids. See C. japonica for explanations of bloom season and flower-size terminology.

'Dr. Clifford Parks'. Midseason. Very large blossoms in a rich, orange-toned red are semidouble to loose peony form to anemone form. Vigorous, upright plant.

'Flower Girl'. Early to midseason. Large to very large, semidouble to peony-form flowers of bright pink. Vigorous, upright growth. Profuse flowering and small leaves come from its sasanqua parent, big flowers from its C. reticulata ancestor.

'Francie L'. Midseason to late. Very large semidouble flowers with wavy petals. Deep rose-pink.

'Frank Houser'. Early to midseason. Very large semidouble to peony form, rose-red flowers. Spreading, open, strong grower. A variegated form is also available.

'Valentine Day'. Midseason to late. Large to very large, salmon-pink formal double flowers. Fast, upright grower.

'Valley Knudsen'. Midseason to late. Large to very large, deep orchid-pink blooms, semidouble to loose peony form. Compact, upright growth.

Hardy hybrids. Dr. William Ackerman of the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Clifford Parks of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, bred a number of species, notably the hardy C. oleifera, to produce hardy camellias. These hybrids withstand temperatures as low as 15F with little or no damage, provided they have some shelter from winter sun and wind. They bear 312- to 4-in. flowers in October and November. Selections include very early-blooming 'Autumn Spirit', with small, bright pink peony-form flowers; 'Snow Flurry' and 'Winter's Snowman', white anemone-form blossoms; 'Winter's Charm' and 'Winter's Interlude', pink peony form; 'Winter's Joy', bright pink semidouble blooms; and 'Winter's Waterlily', white formal double.

'Pink Icicle', with shell-pink peony-form flowers, was selected from C. japonica and blooms in early spring. Also selected from C. japonica is the April series of hardy camellias, named for the time they typically bloom in the cooler, northern part of their range. Included are 'April Blush', shell-pink semidouble; 'April Dawn', formal double, variegated pink and white; 'April Remembered', cream- to pink-shaded, semidouble; 'April Rose', rose-red formal double; 'April Snow', white rose-form double; and 'April Tryst', bright red anemone form.

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