Forest & Kim Starr
Plant Common Name
Common Camellia, Japanese Camellia
The common camellia is a large, broadleaf evergreen shrub to small tree that originates from eastern Asia. It has a compact, upright habit and attractive smooth gray branches furnished with oval, glossy, dark green leaves. From late winter to early spring, it bears large, single deep red flowers, though there are many cultivars that come in a wider array of pink, white and red shades.
Treasured in eastern Asia for centuries, the common camellia was brought to the western world by Jesuit missionary and botanist, Georg Joseph Kamel, for whom this genus is named. It is a large, broadleaf evergreen shrub to small tree with attractive smooth gray branches furnished with oval, glossy dark green leaves with toothed edges. From late winter to early spring, it bears large, waxy flowers that are excellent for cutting.
Camellia prefers partial sun to partial shade but will tolerate full sun once established, though sunscald may be a problem. The soil should be moist, acid and well-drained and rich in organic matter. This plant is notoriously slow-growing, slow to establish and shallow rooted. A thick layer of organic mulch will protect the roots and facilitate better growth. Regular irrigation and applications of fertilizer promote good growth and flowering, though plants will tolerate periods of drought. Prune after flowering, just before new growth starts in the spring. Selective, light pruning and shaping is recommended and shearing is not. Camellias do not recover well from harsh pruning practices.
The evergreen leaves and tender flower buds may suffer from sunscald and wind desiccation in winter, so avoid planting camellia in highly exposed areas. In the landscape, it may be used in hedges, foundations, mixed borders or as a specimen plant.
There are many cultivars of camellia available with a range of flower color, type and size. Some cultivars are more compact, others large and full. Bloom colors can be white, shades of pink, red or yellow with single, double or semi-double flowers. With so many to choose from, there’s a camellia for every garden!