Camellias are indispensable to the Winter garden and bloom generously from late Autumn through to mid Spring. They are long-lived, evergreen ornamental shrubs and small trees (up to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide) with glossy, dark green leaves.Their blooms exhibit great variability in :
Colour: Pure white to deep dark red; Bicolour combinations
Form: Single; Semi-Double; Irregular Semi-Double; Formal Double; Informal Double (Peony); and Elegans (Anemone). For a description of each form, see: camelliasaustralia.com.au/cultivation/camellia-types/camellia-flower-types/
Size: Miniature: less than 6cm; Small: 6-7.5 cm; Medium: 7.5-9cm; Medium-Large: 9-10cm; Large: 10-12.5cm; and Very Large: more than 12.5cm; and
Flowering period (these times refer to Australia and Southern Hemisphere):
Early: Autumn: March to June; Mid: Autumn to Winter:Mid June to August; Late: Winter to Spring: Late August to October.My only reservation about these beautiful flowers is that most of them have no scent, but I have named a few fragrant varieties later on! Despite that, it doesn’t seem to worry the bees! The fruit of the camellia is a globe-shaped capsule with 3 compartments (locules), each with 1-2 large brown seeds.
We were lucky enough to inherit a huge old camellia tree right at our entrance and its white, pale pink, striped pink and deep pink double blooms sustain our spirits all Winter. They look beautiful against the dark green foliage and their fallen blooms form an attractive carpet underneath, interspersed with violets and hellebores. Their seeds strike well, producing many tiny seedlings beneath the parent plant. Up until now, I went along with the suggestion that it was a multi-graft camellia, since it bears flowers of a number of different colour combinations, but during my research for this post, I came across an article (www.gardenclinic.com.au/how-to-grow-article/australia-s-first-camellia) by Graham Ross about an early Australian variety: C.japonica ‘Aspasia Macarthur’, which also throws blooms of a number of different colours. It has flowers of variable colour from a pale flesh or cream colour with pinkish/ red splashes, reverting to pure pink and pure red flowers. It also has a number of sports including ‘Lady Loch’ 1889, which has medium to large pale pink peony flowers, and ‘Otahuhu Beauty’ 1904 with medium informal double rose pink blooms. For photos of all the sports, see : http://www.camellias.pics/mutations-gb.php?langue=gb#ANC-ID1106 and https://humecamellia.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/850/ . I have strong suspicions that my old plant might be ‘Aspasia Macarthur’ or at least related to it, as its flowers are very similar to all of these varieties. Graham Ross states that his plant dates from 1920 and our plant could well be the same, as our house was built in 1925. There is also a useful site for camellia identification: www.camellias.pics/index-gb.php?langue=gb, though I was a bit confused as to which flower to include in their search facility!I have also planted some new camellia plants along the fence line:
C.vernalis ‘Star above Star’ : I first saw this beautiful camellia at my friend’s place at Black Mountain, NSW (1st photo below) and on the way home, I found a plant at a nursery. It has just bloomed for the first time, its creamy-pink bloom ageing to a lolly-pink (2nd and 3rd photos below);
C.japonica ‘Nuccio’s Gem’: I was thrilled to discover a tiny specimen at our local hardware store, as its exquisite, formal double white flower has always been a favourite of mine;
And C.japonica ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ : It has had a number of eye-catching, pretty, pure red formal double blooms this year.Camellias belong to the order Ericales, which includes azaleas and blueberries, and the family Theaceae, which also contains Stewartia and Gordonia, all plants having serrated glossy leaves (mostly evergreen), flowers with multi-stamens and fruit in capsules or seedpods. The genus Camellia, named after the Jesuit priest and botanist, George Kamel (1661-1706), has between 200 and 300 species. Here are some brief notes about some of the main species:
The most famous species is Camellia japonica, from which thousands of cultivars have been developed. It hails from the forests of Japan, as well as China and South Korea (300-1100m altitude), where it is pollinated by the Japanese White Eye bird (Zosterops japonica). It grows best in partial shade.Camellia sasanqua is also very well-known. It is a smaller shrub with denser, smaller, rounded foliage and smaller flowers with a similar form and colour to the Japonicas. Unlike the blooms of the latter, which fall intact, sasanqua flowers shatter on impact, carpeting the ground below with petals rather than flowers. They also tolerate more sun than C.japonica, ‘sasanqua’ being the Japanese word for ‘sun’. Sasanquas are native to Southern Japan and the Liu Kiu Islands.Camellia vernalis is a cross between C.japonica and C.sasanqua and its blooms do not shatter easily like the sasanquas.‘Star above Star’ is an example.Camellia reticulata is also grown as an ornamental shrub in many gardens and has larger, showy flowers and leaves with distinct veins. It also tolerate a fair amount of sun. There are a number of hybrids, which have been produced by crosses between C.reticulata and C.japonica/ C.sasanqua.
Camellia sinesis, from China (as well as Japan and the rest of South East Asia), is a very important commercial plant, as it is the source of all our black and green tea and Camellia oleifera is harvested for its oil, which is used in cooking and cosmetics. I have just bought a plant of C.sinensis at our local hardware store for its lovely little white flowers and novelty value, as well as in deference to our family’s huge consumption of tea! It has very small, simple, semi-fragrant , white flowers with a boss of gold stamens from late Summer to early Autumn. Bees and butterflies love the flowers, while humans prefer the leaves! Tea leaves were used as medicine in the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) and have been consumed as a beverage since the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE). In green tea, the leaves are dried and steamed, while in black tea, the leaves are dried and fermented. We enjoyed an informative visit to the Nerada Tea plantation on the Atherton Tableland, Queensland. (http://www.neradatea.com.au) in 2008. We learnt that C.sinensis can reach a height of 5-10 m if left untrimmed (see old tree in the first photo below) and that it takes up to 7 years before the leaves can be harvested for tea, after which the plant will produce leaves for tea for 100 years! We also had a guided tour of the processing factory (2nd photo below).Other species have smaller leaves and miniature flowers and a few are even scented like C.lutchuensis, C.transnokoensis, C.fraterna; C.kissi; C.yuhsienensis and C.grijsii. The japonica cultivar ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ is slightly fragrant, while the fragrance of the sasanqua cultivar ‘Daydream’ is more intense, but not sweet. Other fragrant hybrids, using C.fraterna, C.yuhsienensis and C.grijsii as breeding stock, include : ‘ Cinammon Cindy’; ‘Cinammon Scentsation’; ‘Fragrant Joy’; ‘Fragrant Pink’; ‘Helen B’; ‘Hallstone Spicy’; ‘High Fragrance’; ‘Sweet Emily Kate’ and ‘Scentuous’.
Camellias originated in Eastern and Southern Asia from the Himalayas to Japan and Indonesia. Camellia japonica was portrayed in 11th Century Chinese porcelain and paintings, usually as a single red bloom. The oldest camellia in the world, at the Panlong Monastery in China, dates from 1347. The camellia was introduced to the West by the Dutch East India Company surgeon, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), who discovered them while in Japan. On his return, he described the details of more than 30 varieties. The oldest camellia trees in Europe were planted at the end of the 16th century at Campobello, Portugal.
The first camellias in Australia were planted by Alexander Macleay in 1826 at Elizabeth Bay House. The history of the camellia in Australia is recounted in http://www.gardenclinic.com.au/how-to-grow-article/australia-s-first-camellia. One of the early pioneers was the Waratah Camellia, C.japonica ‘Anemoniflora’, planted in the Sydney Botanic Garden in 1828 and by William Macarthur in 1831 at Camden Park Estate to be used in his breeding program. Other varieties imported in the same 1831 shipment were: ‘Alba Plena’, ‘Camura’ (Syn.’Incamata’) ‘Myrtifolia’, ‘Rubra’ and ‘Welbankiana’. In 1850, Macarthur listed 62 hand-bred varieties, the first of which was C.japonica ‘Aspasia’ or ‘Aspasia Macarthur’, as it is now known. By 1883, the leading nursery in Australia, Shepherd and Company, listed 160 varieties of C.japonica, but by 1891, the number of varieties had dropped to 53 and in 1916 to 16.
The revival of the camellia industry in Australia owes an enormous debt to Professor EG Waterhouse, a world authority on camellias,who researched and wrote 2 books about these lovely plants and propagated them between 1914-1977 at his home ‘Eryldene’ (17 McIntosh St Gordon, North Sydney) and nursery, Camellia Grove Nursery, based at St. Ives from 1939 to 2004 and now at Glenorie, 8 Cattai Ridge Rd., Glenorie (http://www.camelliagrove.com.au/). ‘Eryldene’, an Art Deco house built in 1914, is listed on the National Estate and the NSW Heritage Register and is open to the public on selected weekends during Winter. The next open day is 13th and 14th August 2016. See: http://www.eryldene.org.au/ for dates and further information.
Camellias can also be viewed at the EG Waterhouse National Camellia Gardens, 104 President Ave, Caringbah South, near Cronulla. They were established as a Captain Cook Bicentenary project in 1970 and they are only one of 40 International Camellia Gardens of Excellence in the world and the only such garden in New South Wales. They showcase 400 cultivars and species from Autumn to Spring. Camellia sasanqua blooms from Autumn to early Winter or early Spring; followed by Camellia japonica, from late Autumn right through Winter; and Camellia reticulata in bloom from mid-Winter to September/October. The gardens are open from 9am-4pm on weekdays and 9.30am – 5pm on weekends and public holidays. See: http://www.sutherlandshire.nsw.gov.au/Outdoors/Parks-and-Playgrounds/Parks/Camellia-Gardens-Caringbah-South and http://camelliasaustralia.com.au/gardens/e-g-waterhouse-national-camellia-gardens/.
The Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne (https://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/visit-melbourne/attractions/plant-collections/camellia-collection also has a large collection of camellias, with 950 species and cultivars, some dating back to 1875, while Araluen Botanic Park, Western Australia (http://araluenbotanicpark.com.au/) has 450 cultivars. The Mount Lofty Botanic Garden in South Australia (http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/botanicgardens/visit/mount-lofty-botanic-garden) also has an important collection.
All the states have their own camellia societies, affiliated under an umbrella association called Camellias Australia Inc.(See their website: http://camelliasaustralia.com.au). It also hosts a project called the Camellia Ark, set up to conserve some of the very rare early species in Australia, which are now disappearing. It includes 75 endangered cultivars and species and can be accessed at : http://camelliasaustralia.com.au/gardens/camellia-ark/.Camellias are best selected when in bloom. They should be planted (and transplanted) during Autumn and Winter. Their ideal site is:
- Partial shade. Full shade reduces the amount of flowering, while full sun will burn the foliage; White and light pink varieties prefer more shade; C.sasanqua and C.reticulata will tolerate more sun than C.japonica.
- Organic, slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), semi-moist but well-drained soil.
The site should be prepared prior to planting with generous amounts of peat moss, compost or old manure mixed in with the soil. The hole should be twice the diameter of the root ball and 1½ times the depth. The planting depth is critical, otherwise if the root ball is set too deep, the plant may refuse to bloom. Plant, so that the root ball is 1 inch above the existing soil level to allow for settling. Water heavily and keep well-watered until the plant is established. A thick layer (2-3 inches) of mulch (leaf mould or shredded bark) will help to retain moisture. Having said that, make sure the soil is well-drained, as camellias hate wet feet, as too much water results in root rot.
Camellias are very easy, minimal care plants, which seldom require pruning, except for weak, spindly, or dead branches. For a more upright growth, the inner branches can be thinned out and the lower limbs shortened. If you must prune, do it immediately after the blooms fade or in mid Summer. They are not heavy feeders, but if growth is weak or the leaves are yellowing, a slow release Azalea and Camellia Fertilizer can be applied sparingly around the drip line of the plant in December, after which the plant should be watered well. Avoid the use of mushroom compost, fresh chook manure and lime (all too alkaline). A few handfuls of sulphate of potash can be beneficial just before flowering.Diseases are mainly fungal and algal, including;
- Spot Disease – round spots and upper side of leaves silvery, leading to loss of leaves
- Black Mold
- Leaf Spot
- Leaf Gall
- Flower Blight – flowers brown and fall
- Root Rot
- Canker – caused by fungus Glomerella cingulata, which attacks through wounds.
Physiological diseases include:
- Salt Injury – high levels of salt in soil
- Chlorosis – insufficient acidity in soil prevents the absorption of essential soil elements
- Bud Drop – loss and decay of buds due to over-watering, high temperatures and potbound roots
- Bud Balling – treat with 2 tsp Epsom salts to 10 litres water; a good feed of Azalea and Camellia fertilizer or move to a different place.
Camellias can also suffer from oedema and sunburn.
Pests include :
- Fuller rose beetle Pantomorus cervinus
- Mealy bugs Planococcus citri and Planococcus longispinus
- Weevils Otiorhyncus slacatus and Otiothyncus ovatus and
- Tea Scale Fiorinia theae
Camellias can be propagated by :
- Seed: Hybrid plants may be sterile; Seed is not necessarily true to its parentage; Seeds should be soaked in warm water for 24 hours and sown indoors in Spring and Fall in a 70-75 degree growing medium until germination (within 1-2 months). Our old camellia does not seem to have any trouble producing seedlings under its skirt, without any help from us!
- Softwood cuttings: From new growth in early Summer, but is a slow process; Each cutting should have more than 5 nodes; Remove the lowest leaves and trim the other leaves by half. Insert into a mix of sand and peat moss.
- Air Layering: Produces larger clones and can be done at any time of the year, but best in Spring during active growth. It is the easiest propagation method and is described in : http://camelliasaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Camellia-Propagation_Garnett-Hunt.pdf and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqJ1onrFfR4
Camellias are lovely specimen plants and can also be planted as massed plantings and in mixed borders. Sasanqua camellias planted close together make great hedges and screens. They can be espaliered and trellised, as well as grown in containers and planters on patios, porches, pathways and gazebos. They can even be used in bonsai and topiary or grown as standards.They are the food plant of some Lepidoptera, including the Engrailed Ectropis, Crepuscularia. In China, camellias are lucky symbols, exchanged as gifts during the Chinese New Year (their Spring), and promising prosperity and a long life. They also have a superstition that Chinese women should never wear a camellia in their hair or they won’t be able to bear sons for a long time. In the language of flowers, a white camellia means ‘exquisite loveliness’, while a red camellia means ‘unpretentious excellence’.Camellia foliage is used in floristry as a filler. I like to float their flower heads in a shallow bowl of water, though I use a pottery bowl these days! I once had a lovely glass shallow bowl, but it had a small lip, which led to its downfall and a very memorable dinner party! Filled with floating flowers and tea lights, the candles floated under the edge of the lip and started to heat the glass. I dismissed a small ‘ping’, only to have the whole bowl literally explode a few minutes later, the water pouring all over and even through the dinner table! Very dramatic and certainly a conversation stopper! These are my latest camellia blooms. They can also be used in corsages, wedding bouquets and funeral wreaths. Care should be taken when handling the flowers, as they bruise and brown easily. Flowers last 5-7 days in floral work and may need wiring. Preservative is optional. Here is a photo of a beautiful vase of ‘Star above Star’ in our bedroom, when we visited out friends in Black Mountain. Thank you, Jane xxx
For more information on camellias, which you can enjoy over a pot of China Tea, please see: https://simplebooklet.com/camelliaquide.