The Camellia produces flowers up to 5 in (12.7 cm) wide with yellow centers and rounded overlapping petals, much like a rose. The flowers are prized, but so are the glossy leaves that stay a deep, shiny green all year. It is a slow grower, but eventually will reach up to 20 ft (6.1 m) tall. Camellias flower from late winter to early spring. Over 3,000 varieties, cultivars and hybrids of Camellia japonica are cultivated. A lovely one is 'Adolphe Audusson', whose deep red flowers are more numerous and appear earlier than other types. White 'Alba Simplex' is another favorite choice, and 'Contessa Lavinea' is pale pink with dark pink splashes and dark green leaves. An open, upright, cultivar called 'Rubra' is pictured.
A native of China, camellias are a traditional favorite across the southeastern U.S. Throughout the winter, camellias brighten the landscape, from sandy migrant workers' camps to white-columned plantation homes.
Camellias like acid soil with plenty of moisture. Since early morning sun may cause petals to become limp and brown, an ideal location would be west of a structure or barrier wall. Prune in spring after flowering. Keep other plants a safe distance away and apply mulch to protect the camellia's shallow roots. Light: Prefers partial shade, but they need more sun in colder climates. Moisture: Prefers rich moist soil, but is adaptable. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-9. Camellias are hardy, but for extra protection, apply mulch and cover flower buds if frost threatens. Propagation: Take semi-ripe cuttings from late summer to winter (use rooting hormone). Can also be air-layered in spring.
This very popular shrub is used in borders and in formation hedges. Use it for specimen plants on the lawn and for colorful accents near outdoor living areas. Camellias are especially attractive and easy to grow when planted under a canopy of live oaks and pine trees that provide broken shade. It is tolerant of urban conditions if maintained, and can also be used in containers.
The genus was named for George Kamel, a Jesuit missionary who travelled in Asia and studied the flora of the Philippines. Red camellias symbolize intrinsic worth and white blossoms mean loveliness. Displayed at Korean weddings as far back as 1200 BC, camellias represent longevity and faithfulness.