Fall and winter is blossom time for beautiful camellias.
These ornamental, flowering shrubs or small trees are cold hardy in zones 7 to 9. In South Florida zones 10–11 camellias cannot tolerate overhead sun, heat and humidity. Each variety flowers for about 4-6 weeks.
Southern gardeners can select several different camellias that flower early-season (October or November), mid-season (December and January) or late-season (February to March). My zone 9A garden has 9 readily available varieties that produce attractive rose-like blooms in succession over a 6-month period.
Camellias are dense evergreens that take pruning well. Prune only once a year, immediately after the variety has stopped flowering to reduce size and induce denser new growth.
Flower buds grow on new twigs not old branches. Be aware that flower buds take months to develop so never prune a camellia after summer has begun or the buds will be removed. I tip prune stems individually rather than shear with hedge cutters.
Further north, camellias can take full summer sun as long as their roots are protected with organic mulch like pine needles, pine bark or wood chips. Leaves can sunburn in Central Florida zone 9A. I plant camellias in part shade beneath Turkey Oaks, Longleaf Pines, and tall Sand Live Oaks.
Camellias need humus-rich, well amended soil that retains moisture yet is well drained. During Florida’s dry season between April and mid-June, weekly irrigation is needed.
Introduced to the U.S. in 1786 near Charleston, South Carolina the common name camellia refers to varieties and hybrids of Camellia hiemalis, C. japonica, C. reticulata C. sasanqua, C. sinensis, C. vernalis, other species and their hybrids. In home gardens and parks, gardeners use camellias for privacy screens, mass plantings, groups, pruned hedges, foundation plantings and accent plants.
Camellias evolved in eastern and southern Asia. Originally, in 1735, there were thought to be only two species in the tea family Theaceae: Camellia japonica and C. sinensis. Modern science has identified some 267–300 distinct species or groups.
There are over 3,000 hybrids and some 20,000 named and registered camellia varieties. After 1958 Chinese botanist Chang Hungta and his team at Sunyatsen University, Guangzhou, China, identified 201 species or otherwise differentiated groups of camellias. Chang divided the genus into four subgenera with a total of 20 sections.
By 1991 a further 66 were identified making a total of 267 species. By 2013 Cambridge in the United Kingdom, listed 119–280 species.
Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) named the Camellia genus after Georg Joseph Kamel, a Jesuit botanist who discovered a new plant when he worked in the Philippines. Carl Linæus’s father Nils had adopted the Latinate name Linnæus, spelled with the æ ligature, because of a giant linden tree that grew on the family homestead. Linden is Lind in Swedish.
ShiShi Gashira, Camellia hiemalis is often called a “sasanqua-type” camellia. Some manmade hybrids have similar names. First recorded in 1894 in Ikeda, Japan, it was in a nursery catalogue in 1935.
My garden has a slow-growing ShiShi Gashira camellia shrub that is 5-7 feet tall by 3-5-feet diameter. It’s often called a dwarf camellia because it is smaller at maturity than unpruned sasanqua species. With flowers and foliage similar to early season sasanquas, it blooms at the same time.
Louisiana State University Agriculture Center, lsuagcenter.com. explains that ShiShi Gashira belongs to the species called Camellia hiemalis. ShiShi Gashira has been one of the most widely planted and popular camellias in southern landscapes for over 8 decades.
Gardeners can visit the American Camellia Society website, www.americancamellias.com, to read an informative introduction to camellias written by Dr. Clifford Parks.
The 150-acre Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, Georgia was donated to the ACS in 1966 by David C. Strother. Massee Lane has about 1,000 camellia varieties. The ACS recognize and list a Camelia Trail of notable collections around the country.
The ACS lists camellia shows. The Ocala Camellia Society show is scheduled for Jan. 29 and 30 at Ocala Golf Club, 3130 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala. Contact: Patrick Andrews, 352 895-8762 at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Laura Perdomo at email@example.com.
(Read the photo captions for information on varieties readily available in the southeast U.S. More photos can be found with this article at www.chronicleonline.com, lifestyles.)
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Visitors are welcome to her Dunnellon, Marion County, garden. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 352-249-6899.