The camellia plant is one of our favorite evergreen flowering shrubs . These plants provide some of the first signs of the season when they burst out in big, colorful blooms come winter and spring. Depending on the selection, camellias bloom out in splashy shades of white, pink, red, and magenta, and some are even speckled and striped. They provide beautiful garden color throughout the South. Some of the most popular camellias to plant in the South include 'Yuletide' camellia ( Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide') and 'Early Wonder' camellia ( Camellia japonica 'Early Autumn'), both of which can be found in the Southern Living Plant Collection .
From their showy flowers to their tall upright growth to their glossy, deep-green leaves, there's plenty to love about camellias. Read on for a few camellia facts all enthusiasts should know, and you just might learn something new about these Southern-favorite shrubs.
Not All Camellias Bloom in Winter and Spring
While we often think of camellias as cold-weather, early-spring bloomers , sasanqua camellias (hybrids developed from the Camellia sasanqua species) bloom in fall. These hybrids provide vibrant autumn color and are easy to train into espalier, hedge, or climbing forms. Try 'Diana' camellia ( Camellia sasanqua 'TDN 1110') for lush white blooms and 'Alabama Beauty' camellia ( Camellia sasanqua 'TDN 1111') for rosy-red blooms in October and November.
Camellias Are Shady Ladies
Camellias thrive in partial shade with plenty of protection from the bright afternoon sun. Once established, they grow best in well-draining soil with minimal watering.
Camellia's Like a Spring Feeding
Feed Camellia's with an acid-forming azalea or camellia fertilizer in spring, after the flowers have dropped; fertilize again in the midsummer if growth seems sluggish or foliage looks sparse and begins to lose its deep green color.
Camellias Require Some Pruning
After the blooming season, camellias require light pruning , including removing dead woody bits and thinning the shrub's dense foliage so that the branches have space to grow and new blossoms have room to bloom.
There are Thousands of Camellia Hybrids
There are over 300 known species of camellias and countless thousands of hybrid cultivars. The most well-known camellia species is the common camellia (Camellia japonica) . If you live in the Upper or Tropical South and have problems growing camellias, you can now enjoy hybrids that flourish in the extremes of weather found in both regions.
Camellias Are Native to Asia
Camellias come to us from the eastern and southern regions of Asia. Today, they can be found growing around the world, and in Asia, their reach extends north to Korea and south to Vietnam.
A French Botanist Brought Camellias to America
Camellias were introduced to America through the port of Charleston by famed French botanist André Michaux, who established the South's first botanical garden just north of Charleston in 1786. Ideally suited to the Lowcountry climate, camellias began flourishing in small gardens as well as on large estates.
The Camellia is Alabama's State Flower
The camellia was adopted as Alabama's state flower in 1959. The Camellia cross-pollinates with football in Alabama at the annual Camellia Bowl. Named after the state flower , this football game between teams from the Sun Belt and Mid-American conferences kicks off on Christmas Day at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.
Several Award-Winning Camellia Gardens Are in the South
Five of seven gardens in the United States considered "gardens of excellence" by the International Camellia Society are in the South. These five gardens include: Magnolia Plantation & Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina; Massee Lane Gardens, in Fort Valley, Georgia; Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norkfolk, Virginia; Kosaku Sawada Winter Garden at the Mobile Botanical Gardens in Mobile, Alabama; and the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The gardens must have a significant collection, be well-cared for, and be enjoyable to visit, according to the ICS, to earn the garden of excellence honors.
Camellias Signify Love and Devotion
Camellia flowers have several symbolic associations. In the U.S., camellias signify themes of love, admiration, longing, adoration, affection, devotion, desire, and passion. In Japan, the camellia flower (or "tsubaki" ) is prized for its beauty and has associations with the sacred and the divine.
Camellias Are Relatively Deer-Resistant
Deer and other garden nuisances are not known to bother camellias. These shrubs are not usually deer's favorite snacks, which makes them a good choice for planting in areas throughout the South where deer are known to graze.
Camellias Can Grow to Be Very Tall
These shrubs are not usually low-to-the-ground growers. While a few camellias grow from 2- to 4-feet tall, others grow straight up on strong woody trunks and can reach heights of 6- to 15-feet tall with 4- to 7-foot widths. One of the largest camellia species is known to grow as high as 20-feet tall.
Camellias Are Part of a Famous Golf Tournament
The 10th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, is called "Camellia," where several species of the evergreen shrubs grow. The golf course is a former nursery, where the camellias, imported from Japan, were first grown along with slew of classic Southern plants, shrubs, and trees.
Camellias Were a Fashion Icon's Favorite
To renowned fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the camellia became one of her emblems , according to CHANEL, that she used in the designs of shoes, bags, belts, and jewelry, elevating the flower to icon status by the French fashion house.
Camellias Play a Role in Harper Lee's Novel To Kill a Mockingbird
One of the plot points in Harper Lee's classic 1960 novel involves Jem Finch (Atticus' son and Scout's brother), Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, and her camellia flowers.
Are camellias your favorite flowering shrubs? Do you have camellias in your yard or do you tend them in containers?