Camellia japonica

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Japanese Camellia
Camellia japonica var. decumbens 3.JPG
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Theaceae
Genus: Camellia
Species: C. japonica
Binomial name
Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica (the Japanese camellia) is one of the best known species of the genus Camellia. Sometimes called the Rose of winter,[1] it belongs to the Theaceae family. It is the official state flower of Alabama.

In the wild, it is found in mainland China (Shandong, east Zhejiang), Taiwan, southern Korea and southern Japan.[2] It grows in forests, at altitudes of around 300–1,100 metres (980–3,610 ft).[3]


Camellia japonica is a flowering tree or shrub, usually 1.5–6 metres (4.9–19.7 ft) tall, but occasionally up to 11 metres (36 ft) tall. Some cultivated varieties achieve a size of 72m² or more. The youngest branches are purplish-brown, becoming grayish-brown as they age. The alternate leathery leaves are dark green on the top side, paler on the underside, usually 5–11 centimetres (2.0–4.3 in) long by 2.5–6 centimetres (1.0–2.4 in) wide with a stalk (petiole) about 5–10 millimetres (0.2–0.4 in) long. The base of the leaf is pointed (cuneate), the margins are very finely toothed (serrulate) and the tip somewhat pointed.[3]

In the wild, flowering is between January and March. The flowers appear along the branches, particularly towards the ends, and have very short stems. They occur either alone or in pairs, and are 6–10 centimetres (2.4–3.9 in) across. There are about nine greenish bracteoles and sepals. Flowers of the wild species have six or seven rose or white petals, each 3–4.5 centimetres (1.2–1.8 in) long by 1.5–2.5 centimetres (0.6–1.0 in) wide; the innermost petals are joined at the base for up to a third of their length. (Cultivated forms often have more petals.) The numerous stamens are 2.5–3.5 centimetres (1.0–1.4 in) long, the outer whorl being joined at the base for up to 2.5 centimetres (1.0 in). The three-lobed style is about 3 centimetres (1.2 in) long.[3]

The fruit consists of a globe-shaped capsule with three compartments (locules), each with one or two large brown seeds with a diameter of 1–2 centimetres (0.4–0.8 in). Fruiting occurs in September to October in the wild.[3]

C. japonica leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, such as The Engrailed (Ectropis crepuscularia). The Japanese white eye bird (Zosterops japonica) pollinates Camellia japonica.[4]


The genus Camellia was named after a Jesuit priest and botanist named George Kamel.[5] The specific epithet japonica was given to the species by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 because Engelbert Kaempfer was the first to give a description of the plant while in Japan.[6]

Two varieties are distinguished in the Flora of China:[3]

  • C. japonica var. japonica is the form named by Linnaeus, which is grown as a garden plant throughout southern China, Korea and Japan. The flower has a stem (petiole) about 1 centimetre (0.4 in) long and bracteoles and sepals which are velvety (velutinous).
  • C. japonica var. rusticana (Honda) T. L. Ming is known only in the wild. The flower has a shorter petiole, about 5 millimetres (0.2 in) long, with fine hairs (pubescent) at the base. The bracteoles and sepals are smooth (glabrous) on the outside.


Cultivation history[edit]

Camellia japonica in the garden of Pillnitz Castle, Germany

Camellia japonica has appeared in paintings and porcelain in China since the 11th century. Early paintings of the plant are usually of the single red flowering type. However, a single white flowering plant is shown in the scroll of the Four Magpies of the Song Dynasty.[6]

The camellia was first brought to the West in 1692 by Engelbert Kaempfer, Chief Surgeon to the Dutch East India Company. He brought details of over 30 varieties back from Asia.[7] Camellias were introduced into Europe during the 18th century and had already been cultivated in the Orient for thousands of years. Robert James of Essex, England, is thought to have brought back the first live camellia to England in 1739. On his return from Dejima, Carl Peter Thunberg made a short trip to London where he made the acquaintance of Sir Joseph Banks. Thunberg donated to Kew Botanic Gardens four specimens of Camellia japonica. One of these was supposedly given in 1780 to the botanical garden of Pillnitz Castle near Dresden in Germany where it currently measures 8.9 metres (29 feet) in height and 11 metres (36 feet) in diameter.[8]

The oldest trees of Camellia japonica in Europe can be found in Campobello (Portugal), Caserta (Italien) und Pillnitz (Germany).[9] All of them were probably planted at the end of the 18th century.

In the U.S.A., camellias were first sold in 1807 as greenhouse plants, but were soon distributed to be grown outdoors in the south.[5]

In Charleston, South Carolina, the estate garden of Magnolia-on-the-Ashley introduced hundreds of new Camellia japonica cultivars from the 19th century onwards, and its recently restored collection has been designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence. "Debutante", a popular variety, was originally introduced by Magnolia as "Sarah C. Hastie". The name was changed to give it more marketing appeal.

Normally, camellias cannot be grown in colder climates. However, breeding of camellias has produced many cultivars which are tolerant of zone 6 winters. Camellias can now grow in the milder parts of the lower Midwest (St. Louis, for example), Pacific Northwest, NYC area (NYC/NJ/CT), and even Ontario, Canada (near edge of the Great Lakes). Camellias should be planted in the shade in organic, somewhat acidic, semi-moist but well drained soil. If the soil is not well drained, it can cause the roots to rot.[10]


Camellia japonica is valued for its flowers, which can be single, semi-double or double flowered.[5] There are more than 2,000 cultivars developed from C. japonica. The shade of the flowers can vary from red to pink to white; they sometimes have multi-coloured stripes or specks. Cultivars include 'Elegans' with large pink flowers which often have white streaks, 'Guilio Nuccio' with red to pinkish petals and yellow stamens, 'Mathotiana Alba' with pure white flowers, and the light crimson semi-double-flowered 'The Czar'.[11]

C. japonica 'Alba Plena' is nicknamed the “Bourbon Camellia”. Captain Connor of the East Indiaman, brought the flower to England in 1792.[12] The flowers are pure white and about 3 to 4 inches across. It blooms earlier than most cultivated camellias, in the early winter or spring, and can flower for 4 to 5 months.[13]

The zig-zag camellia or C. japonica 'Unryu' has different zig-zag branching patterns. “Unryu” means “dragon in the clouds” in Japanese; the Japanese believe it looks like a dragon climbing up to the sky. Another type of rare camellia is called the fishtail camellia or C. japonica 'Kingyo-tsubaki'. The tips of the leaves of this plant resemble a fish's tail.[14]

The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-

Name Size Flower colour Ref.
Adelina Patti 06.5m² pink/white [15]
Adolphe Audusson 64.0m² red [16]
Akashigata 06.5m² rose-pink [17]
Alexander Hunter 16.0m² deep crimson [18]
Annie Wylam 10.0m² pale pink [19]
Australis 10.0m² rose red [20]
Berenice Boddy 10.0m² pale pink [21]
Bob Hope 10.0m² deep red [22]
Bob's Tinsie 02.5m² bright red [23]
Bokuhan 01.0m² bright red [24]
C.M. Hovey 10.0m² rose pink [25]
Carter's Sunburst 10.0m² blush pink [26]
Commander Mulroy 03.8m² white [27]
Drama Girl 10.0m² rose pink [28]
Gloire de Nantes 06.3m² rose pink [29]
Grand Prix 64.0m² red [30]
Name Size Flower colour Ref.
Grand Slam 16.0m² red [31]
Guilio Nucco 10.0m² deep pink [32]
Hagoromo 10.0m² blush pink [33]
Hakurakuten 10.0m² white [34]
Joseph Pfingstl 16.0m² deep red [35]
Jupiter 10.0m² rose red [36]
Lavinia Maggi 16.0m² white/cerise [37]
Margaret Davies Picotee 10.0m² white/red [38]
Mars 16.0m² deep red [39]
Masayoshi 16.0m² red/white [40]
Mercury 06.3m² crimson [41]
Nuccio's Jewel 10.0m² white/rose [42]
Sylva 10.0m² crimson [43]
Tricolor 16.0m² white/red [44]
Wilamina 06.3m² pink [45]
Variation in the flowers of cultivars
'Chandler's Elegance' 
'Dr Tinsley' 
'Hikarugenji' (Souvenir de Henri Guichard) 


Some fungal and algal diseases include: Spot Disease, which gives the upper side of leaves a silver color and round spots, and can cause loss of leaves; Black Mold; Leaf Spot; Leaf Gall; Flower Blight, which causes flowers to become brown and fall; Root Rot; and Canker caused by the fungus Glomerella cingulata, which penetrates plants through wounds. Some insects and pests of C. japonica are the Fuller Rose Beetle Pantomorus cervinus, the mealybugs Planococcus citri and Pseudococcus longispinus, the weevils Otiorhyncus salcatus and Otiorhyncus ovatus, and the tea scale Fiorinia theae.

Some physiological diseases include salt injury which results from high levels of salt in soil; chlorosis which is thought to be caused lack of certain elements in the soil; bud drop which causes loss or decay of buds, and can be caused by over-watering, high temperatures, or pot-bound roots. Other diseases are oedema and sunburn. Not much is known about viral diseases in C. japonica.[46]


Camellias are seen as lucky symbols for the Chinese New Year and spring and were even used as offerings to the gods during the Chinese New Year. It is also thought that Chinese women would never wear a Camellia in their hair because it opened much later after the bud formed. This was thought to signify that she would not have a son for a long time.[6]

One of the most important plants related to Camellia japonica is the Camellia sinensis, which is the plant tea comes from. This plant is not usually grown in gardens because it has small white flowers, unlike the Camellia japonica, which has larger, more beautiful flowers. It is not seen in art as often as the Camellia japonica, but it is shown in a painting called the Song Hundred Flowers which hangs in the Palace Museum in Beijing. Camellia sinensis may have been used as medicine during the Shang Dynasty. It was first used for drinking during the Zhou Dynasty.[6]

The following is a poem written by English evangelical Protestant writer Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna:[47]

Thou beauteous child of purity and grace, What element could yield so fair a birth? Defilement bore me - my abiding place Was mid the foul clods of polluted earth. But light looked on me from a holier sphere, To draw me heavenward - then I rose and shone; And can I vainly to thine eye appear, Thou dust-born gazer? make the type thine own. From thy dark dwelling look thou forth, and see The purer beams that brings a lovelier change for thee.


  1. ^ Rushing, Felder and Jennifer Greer. Alabama & Mississippi Gardener's Guide. Cool Springs Press, 2005. 158. ISBN 1-59186-118-7
  2. ^ "Botanica. The Illustrated AZ of over 10000 garden plants and how to cultivate them", p 176-177. Könemann, 2004. ISBN 3-8331-1253-0
  3. ^ a b c d e Min, Tianlu; Bartholomew, Bruce. "Camellia japonica". Retrieved 2011-11-18. , in Wu, Zhengyi; Raven, Peter H. & Hong, Deyuan, eds. (1994 onwards), Flora of China, Beijing; St. Louis: Science Press; Missouri Botanical Garden, retrieved 2011-10-01 
  4. ^ Roubik, Sakai, and Abang A. Hamid Karim. Pollination ecology and the rain forest. New York: Springer Science + Business Media. 2005. 135. ISBN 0-387-21309-0
  5. ^ a b c Cothran, James R. Gardens and historic plants of the antebellum South. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. 2003. ISBN. 166-167. 1-57003-501-6
  6. ^ a b c d Valder, Peter. The Garden Plants of China. Oregon: Timber Press, 1999. ISBN 0-88192-470-9
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Die Pillnitzer Kamelie (Camellia japonica L.)" (in German). Staatliche Schlösser, Burgen und Gärten Sachsen. 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  9. ^ P. Vela, J. L. Couselo, C. Salinero, M. González, M. J. Sainz: Morpho-botanic and molecular characterization of the oldest camellia trees in Europe. In: International Camellia Journal, No. 41, 2009, pp. 51-57
  10. ^ Francko, David. A. Palms won't grow here and other myths. Oregon: Timber Press, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-88192-575-6
  11. ^ Nico Vermeulen:"The Complete Encyclopedia of Container Plants", p. 65-66. Rebo International, Netherlands, 1998. ISBN 90-366-1584-4
  12. ^ Booth, William B. History and Description of the Species of Camellia and Thea. Published by s.n., 1829. Original from Harvard University. Digitized Jun 4, 2007.
  13. ^ The Magazine of horticulture, botany, and all useful discoveries and improvements in rural affairs. Published by Hovey., 1836. v. 2. Original from Harvard University. Digitized May 11, 2007.
  14. ^ Kirton, Meredith. Dig: Modern Australian Gardening. Murdoch Books, 2004. 399. ISBN 1-74045-365-4
  15. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Adelina Patti'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  16. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Adolphe Audusson'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  17. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Akashigata'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  18. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Alexander Hunter'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  19. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Annie Wylam'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  20. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Australis'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  21. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Berenice Boddy'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  22. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Bob Hope'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  23. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Bob's Tinsie'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  24. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Bokuhan'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  25. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'C. M. Hovey'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  26. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Carter's Sunburst'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  27. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Commander Mulroy'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  28. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Drama Girl'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  29. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Gloire de Nantes'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  30. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Grand Prix'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  31. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Grand Slam'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  32. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Guilio Nucco'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  33. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Hagoromo'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  34. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Hakurakuten'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  35. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Joseph Pfingstl'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  36. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Jupiter'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  37. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Lavinia Maggi'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  38. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Margaret Davies'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  39. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Mars'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  40. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Masayoshi'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  41. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Mercury'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  42. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Jewel'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  43. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Sylva'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  44. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Tricolor'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  45. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Camellia japonica 'Wilamina'". Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  46. ^ Pirone, Pascal P. Diseases and pests of ornamental plants. Edition 5. John Wiley and Sons. 1978. 172-175.
  47. ^ Elizabeth, Charlotte. Posthumous and other poems. Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley. 1846. p. 91.

External links[edit]