NORTH FLORIDA — Camellias are an integral part of our North Florida landscapes. They beautify our yards with flowers from autumn to spring and add background greenery all year long. But have you ever wondered where camellias come from? They have a long history in America and in the South in particular.
Some of the info in today’s article is taken from UF/IFAS publications on camellias.
The most common camellia in our area is Camellia japonica. Its name gives a hint of where it comes from – China and Japan. A related species, Camellia sinensis, is the source of black or green tea.
It was the Europeans’ love for tea that originally brought their attention to the camellia. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the East India Company introduced a large number of camellia plants to Europe in hopes of starting a tea industry of their own.
Many of the seedlings they planted turned out to be ornamental varieties. The glossy foliage and flowers soon became popular in Europe.
It was not long before gardeners in America began to acquire camellias for themselves. Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the early cities in the United States to import camellias. The warm climate and busy port made it perfect for growing and selling.
Magnolia Gardens, owned by the Rev. John Drayton, was responsible for developing a large number of new varieties. By the late nineteenth century, there were over three hundred varieties growing there.
Some of the camellia varieties growing in the eighteenth and nineteenth century are still popular in the nursery trade today. ‘Alba Plena’ is one of the oldest varieties. It is a white, slow-growing bush that flowers in the early part of the season.
This variety was first brought to England in 1792 by a Captain Conner of the East India Company and later made its way to the United States. It is still readily available in the nursery trade.
Another heirloom variety is ‘Gigantea’. It was imported from Europe to Magnolia Gardens in the 1840’s. It features very large flowers of red marbled with white and blooms mid-season. The blooms are semi-double peony shape.
‘Pink Perfection’ is a common variety in our area. Originating in Japan, this variety was imported to the Sacramento, California area in 1875. Its shell pink, double flowers bloom early to mid-season and the plant is vigorous and long-lived. There are many other varieties from which to choose.
More information on camellias is available from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County and through these links. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP002, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/HS308.