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Japanese Camellia
Camellia japonica
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Unranked: Angiosperms
Unranked: Eudicots
Unranked: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Theaceae
Genus: Camellia
Species: C. japonica
Binomial name
Camellia japonica

The Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) is one of the best known species of Camellia. It is a member of the Theaceae family or tea family. It is a flowering shrub or a small tree native to Japan, Korea and China.[1] It is also the official state flower of Alabama. It is also called the “rose of winter.” [2]


In its natural habitats the wild plant of Camellia japonica grows to 6–9 meters (20–30 feet) tall. It has usually red, five-petaled flowers of 5–8 cm (2–3 in) diameter.[1] These are the most common Camellias seen in Chinese Gardens.[3]

There are more than 2000 hybrids developed from Camellia japonica. The shade of the flowers can vary from red to pink to white and sometimes have multi-coloured stripes or specks.[4]

The cultivars of Camellia japonica include 'Elegans' with large pink flowers which often have white streaks, 'Guilio Nuccio' with red to pinkish petals and yellow stamens, 'Mathotiana Alba' with pure white flowers, and the light crimson semi-double-flowered 'The Czar'.[4]

The leaves of the Camellia japonica are alternate, simple, broadly elliptic, thick and smooth. The length of the leaves ranges from 7.5 – 12 cm and the width ranges from 3 – 7 cm. The upper side of the leaf is dark green in color, and the lower side of the leaf is a paler green. The leaves are serrate. Flowers of wild Camellia japonica usually have less petals, usually either 5 or 6, than cultivated plants.[5]

Camellia japonica Alba Plena is one of the most beautiful and most prized of all the Camellias. It is nicknamed the “Bourbon Camellia”. Captain Connor of the East Indiaman, brought the flower to England in 1792.[6] The flowers are pure white and about 3 to 4 inches across. It blooms earlier than most cultivated Camellias, in the early winter or spring, and can flower for 4 to 5 months.[7]

The zig-zag camellia or Camellia japonica 'Unryu' has different zig zag branching patterns. The plant is called “Unryu” which means “dragon in the clouds”. The Japanese believe it looks like a dragon climbing up to the sky. Another type of rare Camellia is called the fishtail Camellia or Camellia japonica 'Kingyo-tsubaki'. The tips of the leaves of this plant resemble a fish's tail.[8]

C. japonica leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, such as The Engrailed (Ectropis crepuscularia). The Japanese white eye bird, or Zosterops japonica, pollinates Camellia japonica.[9]

Normally, Camellias cannot be grown in colder climates. However, breeding of Camellias has produced many hybrids which are tolerant of zone 5 and zone 6 winters. Camellias can now grow in parts of New England, Pacific Northwest, even Ontario, Canada. Camellias should be planted in the shade in organic, somewhat acidic, semi-moist but well drained soil. If the soil is not well drained, it can cause root rottage.[10]


Some fungal and algal diseases include Spot Disease, which gives the upper side of leaves a silver color and round spots, and can cause loss of leaves; Black Mold; Leaf Spot; Leaf Gall; Flower Blight which causes flowers to become brown and fall; Root Rot; and Canker caused by the fungus Glomerella cingulata which penetrates plants through wounds. Some insects and pests of Camellia japonica are the Fuller Rose Beetles Pantomorus cervinus, Mealybugs Planococcus citri and Pseudococcus longispinus, Weevils Otiorhyncus salcatus and Otiorhyncus ovatus, and Tea scales Fiorinia theae. Some physiological diseases include Salt Injury which results from high levels of salt in soil; Chlorosis which is thought to be caused lack of certain elements in soil; Bud Drop which causes loss or decay of buds and can be caused by over watering, high temperatures, or pot bound roots. Other diseases are Oedema and sunburn. Not much is known about viral diseases in Camellia japonica.[11]


The genus of the Camellia japonica was named after a Jesuit priest and botanist named George Kamel.[12] Carl Linnaeus gave Camellia japonica the specific epithet japonica because Engelbert Kaempfer was the first to give a description of the plant while in Japan.[3]

Camellia japonica is valued for its beautiful flowers, which can be single, semi-double flowered or double flowered.[12] The camellia was first brought to the West in 1692 by Engelbert Kaempfer, Chief Surgeon to the Dutch East India Company. He brought details of over 30 varieties back from Asia.[13] Camellias were introduced into Europe during the 18th century and had already been cultivated in the Orient for thousands of years. Robert James of Essex, England, is thought to have brought back the first live Camellia to England in 1739. Camellias were first sold in 1807 in an American nursery as greenhouse plants, but were soon sold to be grown outdoors in the south.[12]

Camellia japonica has appeared in paintings and porcelain since the 11th century. Early paintings of the plant are usually of the single red flowering type. However, a single white flowering plant is shown in the scroll of the Four Magpies of the Song Dynasty. Camellias are seen as lucky symbols for the Chinese New Year and spring and were even used as offerings to the gods during the Chinese New Year. It is also thought that Chinese women would never wear a Camellia in their hair because it opened much later after the bud formed. This was thought to signify that she would not have a son for a long time.[3]

One of the most important plants related to Camellia japonica is the Camellia sinensis, which is the plant tea comes from. This plant is not usually grown in gardens because it has small white flowers, unlike the Camellia japonica, which has larger, more beautiful flowers. It is not seen in art as often as the Camellia japonica, but it is shown in a painting called the Song Hundred Flowers which hangs in the Palace Museum in Beijing. Camellia sinensis may have been used as medicine during the Shang Dynasty. It was first used for drinking during the Zhou Dynasty.[3]

The following is a poem written by English evangelical Protestant writer Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna:


Thou beauteous child of purity and grace, What element could yield so fair a birth? Defilement bore me - my abiding place Was mid the foul clods of polluted earth. But light looked on me from a holier sphere, To draw me heavenward - then I rose and shone; And can I vainly to thine eye appear, Thou dust-born gazer? make the type thine own. From thy dark dwelling look thou forth, and see The purer beams that brings a lovelier change for thee.

Charlotte Elizabeth, Posthumous and other poems[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Botanica. The Illustrated AZ of over 10000 garden plants and how to cultivate them", p 176-177. Könemann, 2004. ISBN 3-8331-1253-0
  2. Rushing, Felder and Jennifer Greer. Alabama & Mississippi Gardener's Guide. Cool Springs Press, 2005. 158. ISBN 1-59186-118-7
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Valder, Peter. The Garden Plants of China. Oregon: Timber Press, 1999. ISBN 0-88192-470-9
  4. 4.0 4.1 Nico Vermeulen:"The Complete Encyclopedia of Container Plants", p. 65-66. Rebo International, Netherlands, 1998. ISBN 90-366-1584-4
  5. Gut, Bernardo. Tress in Patagonia. Germany: Springer Science + Business Media. 122. ISBN 3-76438-837-4
  6. Booth, William B. History and Description of the Species of Camellia and Thea. Published by s.n., 1829. Original from Harvard University. Digitized Jun 4, 2007.
  7. The Magazine of horticulture, botany, and all useful discoveries and improvements in rural affairs. Published by Hovey., 1836. v. 2. Original from Harvard University. Digitized May 11, 2007.
  8. Kirton, Meredith. Dig: Modern Australian Gardening. Murdoch Books, 2004. 399. ISBN 1-74045-365-4
  9. Roubik, Sakai, and Abang A. Hamid Karim. Pollination ecology and the rain forest. New York: Springer Science + Business Media. 2005. 135. ISBN 0-38721-309-0
  10. Francko, David. A. Palms won't grow here and other myths. Oregon: Timber Press, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-88192-575-6
  11. Pirone, Pascal P. Diseases and pests of ornamental plants. Edition 5. John Wiley and Sons. 1978. 172-175.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Cothran, James R. Gardens and historic plants of the antebellum South. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. 2003. ISBN. 166-167. 1-57003-501-6
  13. Oak Leaf Gardening:
  14. Elizabeth, Charlotte. Posthumous and other poems. Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley. 1846. 91.

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