Although originally from Asia, camellias are known as a traditional and popular Southern flower. It must have been the camellia’s ability to bloom in the dead of winter, when everything else is asleep, that first captured so much attention and admiration. With their evergreen foliage and delicate flowers, camellias have captured the hearts of people for generations. Camellias offer so much beauty and style that they are a long-established garden favorite and a must have among plant enthusiasts.
Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica) are the most widely grown ornamental species of the camellia genus. Most Japanese camellias begin blooming in December and may bloom up to March. The peak bloom time is mid-winter, a perfect time to cherish their elegant beauty and style. Most can be found in old gardens and around long established homes, which proves that camellias have been prized for many generations.
At first glance, camellias truly make a lovely impression with their large flowers — which may be red, pink, lavender, white or a combination — and their dark evergreen leaves. You might initially think that all camellias are the same, but close observation will reveal that each one is unique and offers something a little different. You will be pleasantly surprised by their many varieties. There are more than 20,000 known varieties or cultivars of camellias, generally grown by amateur camellia hobbyists in the English-speaking world. Camellias show remarkable variance in color, size and form depending on the season, location, soil, nutrition of the plant and the aerial environment.
There are a lot of different camellias, hundreds and hundreds worldwide. But in Alabama, you will likely not find that many, unless you visit an avid camellia grower and collector.
Most large camellias found in home landscapes were planted years ago, varieties that were once popular 20 or 30 years ago such as “Professor Sargent,” “Debutante” and “Pink Perfection.” There are many more, but identifying them can be difficult unless you really know your camellias.
With so many different camellias to choose from, it would be impossible to suggest which ones would be best for you. Much of it is a matter of personal choice. However, do consider winter hardiness since camellias are best grown in Zones 7-9. Cold damage and bud death can be a problem. Visit your local plant nursery to find the right one for you or contact the American Camellia Society for a list of local favorites.
Since many camellias are currently in bloom or blooming, now is a great time to choose a camellia for your landscape. Once you see a camellia that is very different and quite beautiful, I believe you will have a new found admiration. Besides, camellias are the state flower of Alabama, and who doesn’t want to preserve and honor that legacy?
For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local Extension office or visit us online at www.aces.edu.
Shane Harris is an Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.