When I started horticulture school in North Vancouver I learned many plants which I thought would grow in greenhouses here. I was surprised to learn over time that this area has the best climate and the widest range of plant materials of anywhere in the world. This is do to the mild climate, not too hot or cold. One plant which I saw during the winter which looked very plain and burst forth in incredible bloom at this time of year were Camellias and specifically Camellia japonica(Japanese Camellia). These flowers look so incredibly beautiful to me.
Who would not want to fall in love with these beautiful plants. Japanese Camellias come in colors ranging from the purest white through pinks and corals in to blood reds. Some are blotched while other blooms are lined or edged with contrasting color. Many flower forms from single to double with many variations in between add to the interest when waiting for a newly discovered plant to bloom.
Camellias have long been cultivated and hybridized in their native Japan. They are found in the wild growing in the woods and hills on down to sea level on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. 3 varieties are recognized there and it is related to the flower shape and structure. The lowland form has upright flowers with filaments joined for 1/3 to 1/2 their length. The upland form is subspecies(subsp.) rusticana(honda) and has a more open flower with the stamen fused only at the base. The third variety has large fruit which have thick walls and are variety(var.) macrocarpa and are found by the mountains on south Shikoku and Yakushima islands.
Japanese Camellia were first introduced to Europe in 1739 by Lord Petre. Portugal was one of the first places where Camellias where grown and appreciated. Linnaeus named these plants after Joseph Camellus or Kamel (1661-1706) who was a Moravian Jesuit priest that travelled and wrote about the plants especially those on the island of Luzon in the Phillipines.
When Japanese Camellias where first introduced in the England they were thought to not be hardy. Wealthy plant collectors would build special greenhouses to keep their collections in. Several of these buildings still exist and have plants which grow up to the roof in them, one famous example is at Chatsworth House, the home of famous plant collectors the Dukes of Devonshire.
From Europe the wonderful Japanese Camellia has been grown throughout the world. Australia and New Zealand now have well known hybridizers who have given new vigour in to developement of new flowers. Some of the best newer Camellia are crosses with other species such as reticulata, and especially saluenensis which is more hardy.
we are lucky that Japanese Camellias are very adaptable and easy to please. They can grow to very large sizes with time, up to 9m(30ft) in height and 4.5m wide, I have seen very large plants which are taller than a house here. Fortunately giant plants take many, many years as Camellias are considered to be slow growers. Japanese Camellias like early season sun but need to be protected from strong light later in the year, ideal situations are under or near large deciduous trees and other woodland sites.. They yellow and burn when the sun is too strong here. they also need to be sheltered from cold, freezing, drying winds as the early blooms can be damaged by frost.
Japanese Camellias like good slightly acidic or neutral soils with good spring moisture for when they are growing and producing their blooms and leaves. Camellias are used as specimens, container plants, accents or even as informal hedges. They fit into shrub borders and the back of perennial beds for color when the bulbs come up. They require little or no pruning and are extremely long lived, plants can live several hundred years.
Some interesting and ravishing places for you to look at:
An interesting Japanese site in English:
A vast collection of pages and pictures to identify Camellias:
Wiki page on Camellia japonica:
Until we meet again soon….