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GardenSMART :: Celebrate Camellia Season With These Fun Facts

Celebrate Camellia Season With These Fun Facts

By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

Camellias are coming into bloom in warmer zones. We think this happy moment calls for a bit of trivia to help us all get to know this remarkable, useful, and drop-dead gorgeous shrub just a bit better. (Like this one, below, which is 'Kanjiro' a C. sasanqua type with a dense, semi-weeping habit. Not only does it bloom for months, but its flowers are wonderful for cutting.)

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First, Let's Do The Numbers:

3,000:  About the total number of named kinds of camellias.

2,000:  Most of those are C. japonica.

250:  Give or take a few, this is the number of known Camellia species.

5:  Of those, these species are most commonly cultivated as ornamentals.

43:  The number of cultivars we currently grow (like C. japonica 'Pearl Maxwell', above).

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They Are The Stuff Of Legend

From To Kill a Mockingbird to La Traviata and The Lady of the Camellias, the bloom's symbolism of eternal love, kindness, and purity is so potent that they've had starring roles in movies, books, plays, and an opera.

The camellia mentioned as 'Snow on the Mountain' in To Kill a Mockingbird is also known as 'White Doves' and 'Mine-No-Yuki' (above).

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Providing Beauty And Caffeine Highs For Thousands Of Years

The story of camellias started around 2737 BC in China when the leaves of one type (Camellia sinensis) reportedly fell from a tree into boiling water and the Emperor flipped for the resulting brew.

It wasn't until the 18th century that camellias were widely imported into Europe and eventually to North America. (Above is 'Chansonette', an early blooming C. sasanqua.)

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They Delight From Sight To Height

Camellias come in a remarkable range of colors (pink, white, red, striped, cream, etc.), forms (double, single, and in between), and sizes (ground covers to tall shrubs that can be made into small trees), but have one universally admired trait – they are not typically browsed by deer. This is Nuccio's Bella Rossa, an early-blooming C. japonica.

Mature camellias in old forests are known to reach more than 15 meters in height (that's 50 ft. to you and me).

So, that's just a shortlist of what makes this winter-flowering shrub such a cherished addition to gardens. Camellias might rival roses for the most passed-along of plants and it's certainly easy to see why.

Here are a few other stories about camellias you might enjoy:

 


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