My Camellia Says It's Spring!

Yet another plant badly in need of a reality check.

Camellia shrub in bloom
Photo: Steve Bender

Three things go into the decision by a plant to wake up from winter. A calendar is not one. No, it responds to how long it's been cold, how warm it is now, and the increasing length of the day. When all those requirements are met, it's waking up – and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Such is the case with a camellia in my woodland garden. Yesterday, January 31, capped a mild spell with temps in the 70s and abundant sunshine. I was sitting on the back porch, drinking a beer, and soaking it all in. The camellia went nuts, popping nearly every flower bud at once, like a skinny-dipper ripping off his shirt and drawers before cannonballing into a pond.

Interesting thing about this camellia – it's a cold-hardy hybrid produced by Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina called 'April Melody.' It's part of a series that was created to survive the harsh winters that devastated camellias decades ago. "April" refers to the time it normally blooms in USDA Zone 6, the northern limit of its range. It never waits that long in north-central Alabama, though. It used to bloom in the second to third week of February when I planted it about 25 years ago. No more, thanks to global warming.

While winter displays like this are always delightful, they often come at a price. Last night, a strong cold front blew through. Temps will plunge into the mid- to upper twenties for the next couple of nights. Thus, those pretty, deep rose blossoms I enjoy now may quickly turn to brown mush and drop. No more spring for you!

Ah well, if it happens, it happens. At least, I got a photo of it at its peak to remember it by. Plus, other plants will soon appear on stage to continue the show – daffodils, snowflakes, snowdrops, scillas, Spanish bluebells, and alliums. They lie beneath an insulating blanket of oak leaves that should keep them from blooming turn early. But if they do, I won't fuss too much – just sit out on the porch and drink another beer.

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