This robust and stylish aristocrat of the garden is often passed by in favor of its more familiar cousin, Camellia japonica. While it's true that the "japonicas" have larger flowers, Camellia sasanqua has just as many endearing attributes. Like the japonicas, sasanquas have been selected and hybridized into dozens of forms that vary immensely in flower color and size and shape.
Sasanqua's have mature heights that range from about 4-15 ft (1.2-4.6 m). The taller cultivars are typically trimmed up as small trees. 'Fuji-no-mine' means Peak of Mount Fuji in Japanese and indeed its crown is a flattened cone shape that is reminiscent of that famous volcanic mountain. Other cultivars remain shrubby and limited in height. The second picture is of an ancient 'Pink Dauphin' sasanqua that just barely reaches 6 ft (1.8 m). Other cultivers such as 'Bonanza' were developed to serve as groundcovers and with minimal training can be maintained at about 2 ft (0.6 m) in height.
'Fuji-no-mine' at Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida
Sasanquas bear profusions of flowers in fall and early winter depending on cultivar and location. In general they blossom before C. japonica. A beautiful sight is a solitary sasanqua in full bloom standing on the lawn in a spotlight circle of fallen blossoms. Flowers are 1.5-4 in (3.8-10.2 cm) in diameter and come in single, semi-double and double petal arrangements. Most cultivars are not fragrant, having an earthy, organic odor that while not offensive is not the sort of scent that you want up your nose. However some newer offerings, like 'Stephanie Golden', have delightful, light rosy fragrances. Even when not in bloom the sasanquas make a statement with their beautifully glossy, rich green leaves that excel at providing backdrops for garden neighbors. The evergreen leaves are about 1 in (2.5 cm) long by 1 in (2.5 cm) wide and are smaller than C. japonica.
Sasanqua camellias are native to China and Japan where they have contributed their beauty to gardens for centuries.
Sasanquas can cope with many different soil types. They prefer rich organic acid soils (the same as azaleas and rhododendrons). Provide plants with an organic mulch such as leaf litter or shredded bark. These plants have beautiful natural shapes but if you need to do some pruning it is best done "lightly" and in very early spring before the buds form. Light: Broken shade is preferred but sasanquas are tolerant of full sun (especially if well watered). Moisture: Sasanquas need adequate water to look their best but they are suprisingly tolerant of drought once established. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Many new varieties are becoming available with greater cold-hardiness. Sasanquas are now popular in places like Washington D.C. and Cincinnati, Ohio. Propagation:Cuttings dusted with rooting hormone powder.
'Yuletide' hybrid sasanqua blooms around Christmas. Click to download a large version.
Sasanquas are as versatile as they are beautiful. Use them in mixed borders and hedges where they can provide Fall/Winter color. They always look great in containers and planters and become spectacular when they bloom. The low-growing varieties make effective groundcover in shady places and on steep hillsides where mowing is difficult. Single specimens planted where they have room to assume their natural shape make engaging focal points on lawns and near patios.
Neat form, beautiful evergreen foilage and tons of flowers make sasanquas a hit wherever they are planted. Small specimens are inexpensive and readily available. They are virtually pest free and can survive periods of neglect. Best of all, the blossoms come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.