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Camellias brighten the winter landscape

There are hundreds of Camellia varieties with various bloom colors and characteristics.
There are hundreds of Camellia varieties with various bloom colors and characteristics.
Photo by Don Goode

This time of year we are blessed with the showy blooms of the camellia. This evergreen shrub has been a popular landscape plant since it was imported to the US in the late 1700s. Take time to walk through the local nurseries and garden centers to enjoy the various colors and blooms that are available.

There are several types and cultivars of the camellia plant family. The most common species used in the landscape include Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, and Camellia reticulata. Another species, Camellia sinensis, was used as a source of tea by the Chinese as early as 500 BC. It was not until the 1500s that tea came to Europe and then it was so expense that only royalty could afford it and they kept it under lock and key. We now casually drink it and purchase it in convenient steeping bags for pennies!

Before being named the "Camellia" by the botanist/taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus in 1735 the plant was commonly called the Japanese Rose or the Chinese Rose. Linnaeus named the plant in honor of George Joseph Kamel, a botanist working in the Philippines. In 1792 the East India Company brought Camellia plants to England. Camellia plants were imported into New Jersey in 1797 and grown as greenhouse plants. In 1820 a Camellia plant was brought from England to Woodville, Mississippi and was later named the "Woodville Red." In the 1920s the first Camellia societies in America were formed as men's clubs. It was not until the 1970s that Camellia clubs went co-ed. The species Camellia japonica became the state flower of Alabama in 1959 replacing the goldenrod (named state flower in 1927).

According to Dr. Bob Black with the University of Florida, our north Florida climate is well suited to several Camellia varieties - better so than the central and southern parts of the State. His publication, "Camellias in Florida," lists several varieties with notes on which region of the State to which they are best adapted.