Camellia - Camellia japonica

Camellia - Camellia japonica

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Genus of over 80 species of small evergreen, rustic trees and shrubs, originating in India, China and Japan. The foliage is dark green, glossy, slightly leathery; during the cold months of the year they produce numerous fairly large flowers that are subdivided into various groups according to their shape (single, semi-double, anemone, peony, formal double and irregular double). The most widely cultivated is C. japonica, which blooms from January until the beginning of spring, along with C. sasanqua, with less showy flowers that bloom in December-January. Cultivated for hundreds of years also in Europe, there are many hybrids. The camellia flowers have a pink or counter-like color, but there are some red-flowered varieties and very few yellow-flowered varieties; generally the plants of camellia alternate years with exceptional blooms to years with few flowers. Camellias are very long-lived, and over the years they can reach considerable dimensions, up to 6-7 meters in height.
Beautiful specimens of camellia, even of very rare varieties, are found on Lake Maggiore and can be visited at Villa Taranto (Verbania). On Lake Maggiore the first Camellias should in fact have arrived around 1820-1830.
Perhaps not everyone knows that the tea plant is Camellia sinensis. Furthermore, Camellia seeds produce an excellent oil used in cooking and cosmetics. In ancient times in Japan excellent quality coal was made from its wood.

Family and gender
Fam. Theaceaee gen. Camellia, about 70 species
Origin China, Japan and India
Type of plant Trees or shrubs
Exposure Half shade, evergreens
Rustic They need to be sheltered from frost
Ground acid
colors White, pink, red, mauve, variegated
Culture Difficult
Flowering Winter spring
Height From 50 cm to a few meters
Propagation Seed, cutting

History and origins

In the East the camellias have been cultivated for centuries, both the flowering varieties and the variety from which the tea is derived (Camellia sinensis). There are even legends that speak of it dating back to 1500 BC
In Europe (and specifically in England) the flowering camellias initially arrived in the 1700s. They began to spread throughout the West only at the end of that century, even in famous gardens such as that of the Royal Palace of Caserta and of the Malmaison (of Giuseppina, wife of Napoleon, already very passionate about roses). The most widespread species, from the beginning, was the japonica. However, the Sasanqua (appreciated for its early flowering and light fragrance) was also quite successful.

VarietyC. Japonica

it is a shrub or tree, generally rustic, which can reach ten meters in height. Presents dark green leaves, sharp at the apex. Flowering occurs between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. There are a myriad of varieties of Camelia Japonica. Comes from China, Japan and Korea. Its bark is smooth and gray. The leaves are dark green and elliptical, serrated, 5 to 10 cm long. It can reach up to 15 meters in height and be used as a large tree or for the formation of hedges. The species has a red flower, but the varieties also include white, pink and variegate. They can be simple, double or semi-double.
It flowers from February to May. It is very sensitive to frost (it risks dying or losing leaves and buds completely). We therefore recommend wintering in a sheltered place (especially in Northern Italy).

Camellia Hiemalis

thick erect evergreen shrub. Rustic, with small and lanceolate leaves. Flowers separated into double or semi-double pairs.

Camellia Oleifera

large evergreen shrub that produces large white or pink flowers in early spring.

Camellia Reticulata

evergreen shrub, semirustico, with oval leaves. Large single flowers in spring.

Camellia Rosiflora

Small evergreen, rustic shrub with dark green oval leaves. It produces small pink flowers in spring.

Camellia Sasanqua

Shrub or small evergreen tree, dense, erect and rapidly growing. Small green lanceolate leaves. Unlike the Camellia Japonica it grows well in a sunny position. Showy and fragrant flowering that lasts from November to March. It is native to Japan. It can reach a maximum of 6-7 meters in height, has thin branches, leaves and flowers smaller than those of the japonica. These are usually simple and rarely semi-double and range from white to red. It flowers from November to March and has good resistance to cold. It is advisable to protect it only in alpine areas. Elsewhere it will be sufficient to place it near a wall or to shelter it from the winds.

Camellia Tsaii

Semirust evergreen shrub with small green lanceolate leaves. In spring it produces small white flowers.

Camellia Vernalis

Fast-growing evergreen shrub. Green lanceolate leaves. Flowers are produced in winter.

Camellia saluensis

It is native to China and can reach 5 meters in height. It has elongated-elliptic leaves and flowers from white to bright red with yellow stamens that stand out. It flowers from February to April. It is more rustic than japonica.

Reticulated Camellia

It comes from western China. It is a little ramified shrub with large leaves, opaque green, lanceolate, maximum 15 m high. It has axillary 10 cm diameter flowers. It practically requires the same care as Japonica. It can be considered semirustical and therefore needs winter protection.

Reticulated Camellia

It comes from western China. It is a little ramified shrub with large leaves, opaque green, lanceolate, maximum 15 m high. It has axillary 10 cm diameter flowers. It practically requires the same care as Japonica. It can be considered semirustical and therefore needs winter protection.

Camellia x Williamsii

It is a hybrid between the japonica and the saluensis. It blooms abundantly at the end of winter. It is very branched and has beautiful glossy leaves. It can reach 6-7 meters in height.

Camellia sinesis

It is the plant from which the tea is obtained. In its natural state it can reach 15 meters in height, but in cultivation it is generally kept at a maximum of 2 meters, bushy. It has elliptical leaves, 5-10 cm long and 2-4 wide, glossy and dark green. The flowers are white. In Italy it is cultivated exclusively for the flower in the area of ​​the lakes, where the climate is milder. It flowers in April-May.


these plants need regular watering, throughout the year, they do not tolerate prolonged periods of drought; It is therefore encessary to watch over, above all the cultivated seeds inv aso, because the soil is not in any way eccssively, and to intervene with abundant watering. For a rich flowering and to get vigorous arbsti it is advisable to check the humidity of the soil even during the cold months, since the cold winter wind can excessively dry the aerial part of the plant, but also the soil.
In autumn, sprinkle mature roganico fertilizer or slow release granular fertilizer around the plants.


camellias prefer acid soils, completely free of limestone; the soil must be soft and deep, rich in humus. It may be convenient to periodically add the soil to the ground, to avoid that over time it tends to have an excessively high pH. The cultivated specimens inv aso should be repotted every 3-4 years, using a speicfico soil for acdophile plants.


the most frequent parasite is the aphid, an insect that attacks almost all the species mentioned. Very often some varieties from the cochineal.


in general, camellia plants do not require significant pruning; in autumn dry or damaged branches are removed; after flowering it breaks up removing all the withered flowers and possibly also shaping the foliage. To obtain large flowers it is also possible to remove some buds if they are present in large numbers.


The Camellia can be easily reproduced from seed, although the best method of multiplication is the cutting, since the plants obtained from seeds of hybrid plants do not produce flowers identical to those of the mother plant. Another technique used is the graft. The camellia graft is often used to replace one variety with another, especially in adult specimens. The best technique for grafting camellias is the grafted graft. It is called marza a piece of branch with different gems (which is usually cut but can also be the branch of a potted plant). Among the various types of grafted grafts one of the most used for camellias is the graft by approximation. This technique consists in creating a longitudinal cut by removing a part of the trunk bark in each of the two plants (the rootstock and the graft). The wounds will be made to fit together and must be tied tightly with raffia. After about two months the rootstock is cut (above the graft) and the graft (under the graft). The best time to perform this grafting is March-April. Split or crown clutches can also be used.
N.B. Since it is preferable that the scions remain at rest until the moment of grafting, it is good to take them during the winter and keep them in a cool place.

The camellia and its meaning

In the language of flowers, the camellia is the symbol of eternal devotion among lovers. It represents romanticism, love, it is a flower that protects and brings good luck and for these reasons it is very appreciated by women if received from its own half.
In Eastern culture the meaning is even stronger, reflecting the strength of love, its tenacity and mutual dedication.

Land and planting

Camellias need a light, moist, slightly acid soil and always with good drainage. Ideal are the forest soil or substrates of volcanic origin (acid and very light). It is certainly advisable to grow these plants in the ground only if the soil is already suitable in itself. If we have, on the contrary, a clayey soil it will be advisable to dig a large hole and completely replace the substrate (perhaps by inserting large underground concrete vessels, so that the area remains well insulated). But we must pay attention to the irrigations that will be carried out with water as sweet as possible.

Cultivation of camellia in pots

An excellent alternative (if our soil is basic) is to cultivate our camellias in pots.
This should not be too large and the ideal is to fill it with a substrate for acidophilic plants. On the bottom, of course, a thick draining layer composed of shards, gravel or expanded clay must be prepared. They will then need to be repotted about every two to three years, in containers of a size not too large. Repotting can be done both during the vegetative rest and during flowering. The important thing is to avoid making it when the plant is launching new jets. In that case we could stop its growth (which is already naturally very slow).


Camellias are plants that prefer the cool shade of the undergrowth. It is therefore ideal to always put them in a similar situation. On the balconies it is good that it is, during the winter season, in partial shade (especially if we live in the North). During the rest of the year it is always better to put it in an area as fresh and shaded as possible. Usually in the ground they are a little more resistant (especially those that come from our nurseries and therefore used to our sun). It is better however to try to adapt the same as possible to these requirements.

Camellia watering

Camellias particularly love to live in an always damp soil that however should never become too wet (on pain of radical rot). It is therefore necessary to water the plant with a certain frequency: usually in winter it is necessary to intervene at least once a week. In summer it is good to do it every day. It can also be useful to vaporize the leaves of plants in the evening or in the morning (especially in hot and muggy periods). This operation is however to be avoided when the plants are emitting new leaves or during flowering (the flowers are very sensitive and would rot quickly).

Camellia fertilizers

These plants generally do not need many interventions in this aspect, especially if initially a good substrate has already been inserted to suit their needs. However, after a few years, you can begin to distribute a good fertilizer for acidophilic plants when the flowering period is approaching and continue, every 15 days, up to 6 weeks after the end of this. Always be very careful with the doses and strictly follow the manufacturers' recommendations. To avoid exaggerating (and therefore damaging the plant) it is always good to abundantly water the plant after fertilizing. In this way the product will be diluted, the plant will absorb it more slowly and avoid unnecessary risks.

Camellia pruning

Camellias generally do not need pruning because they grow very slowly and to intervene drastically would further accentuate this aspect. On the other hand, it is advisable to intervene already from the early years by cutting off the individual branches. This will favor a good planting and we will obtain a fuller and more aesthetically pleasing appearance. If we have very large specimens in the open ground we can make it necessary to eliminate crooked or heavily compromised branches.

Frost resistance

Camellias are medium-rustic plants. As a rule they should easily withstand up to at least -15 ° C, especially if grown in the ground. You can have problems instead with plants grown in pots, because the cold (especially that of the northern regions), could damage the roots (but also the leaves or flower buds). In that case it is advisable to cover the hair with a protective cloth and place them in well-lit areas during the day, but sheltered from the night cold. It is also a good idea to protect the whole vase by surrounding it with insulating material such as straw or leaves. If we live in alpine areas it is highly recommended to withdraw them in a cold greenhouse at least during the most rigid periods. This aspect, however, needs to be examined in particular in the analysis of the individual varieties.

Parasites and camellia diseases

In this respect they are very resistant plants. They can certainly be attacked by aphids or cochineal, but usually do not cause serious damage. Therefore it is not advisable to intervene.
They can also be affected by white disease or leaf spots. We recommend using specific products, but only if the attack is relevant. In recent years, however, the young plants are often seriously damaged by the oziorrinco. Its presence can be detected by observing the edge of the leaves, which must be gnawed. In that case it is good to intervene with geodisinfesting products during the winter so that the larvae (which damage the collar) can no longer grow.


Camellias can be reproduced by seed, layering, cutting and grafting. The most advisable is the cutting.
If you want to try to sow them it is good to do it with fresh seeds, since they quickly lose their vitality. It is sown in a mixture of sand and peat at about 1 cm of depth, then covering with leaves or conifer needles. They usually germinate in about ten days. They must be transplanted when the taproot has reached about 4 cm in length. The tip of this will be cimated to favor its branching.
The cutting is done with semi-woody branches in the summer. The branch must measure about 8 cm. Only two or three terminal leaves must be left. The cut should be dusted with hormones. It must then be placed in containers with light and always moist substrates and keep temperatures from 15 ° to 25 ° C. Usually they root in 2 or 3 months.

The meaning of the camellia

Camellia is a plant with Asian origins and is especially in Japan and China where it has assumed the strongest symbolic values. The first to attribute a meaning to this plant were in fact the Japanese who have always attributed to camellia a meaning of refinement and elegance, given by its soft and rounded petals.
The Camellia is also used to express love as a long-lasting feeling, as it is a plant with perfect symmetry also repeated in the flowers and therefore symbolically juxtaposed to the couple and the lasting union of two loved ones.
Another important meaning of this plant linked to its flower is that of total trust in the loved one. The chalice that carries the flower in fact supports petals and corolla just as man supports the woman in love, protecting her and always giving her security.

Camellia - Camellia japonica: Red camellia

One of the most popular camellias ever is surely the red camellia, or the camellia with red flowers. In the nurseries and in the garden centers the red camellia, together with the pink camellia and with the white camellia, it is the most sold type. The varieties of camellia that produce red flowers are actually less than the white and pink flower varieties but are appreciated. There camellia japonica It is one of the most appreciated and well-known red-flowered camellias. However, there are also red camellias of the sasanqua variety such as the Christmas camellia, with less showy and important flowering than the japonica but still very beautiful.
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