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Tea-oil Camellia Camellia oleifera

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
ka-MEE-lee-ah oh-lee-IF-er-ah
Description

Camellias are endemic to southeastern Asia and first introduced into the United States in the late 1700s where their bloom season and evergreen leaves made them a southern garden favorite.  Many Camellia hybrids now exist that enhance the beauty, hardiness, or fragrance of the parents making it a showy ornamental that can be grown in many more areas of the country.  It is one of the few flowering plants with species that bring a welcome burst of color in the late fall to winter or early spring. 

The Tea-oil Camellia is a small, dense tree or large evergreen multi-trunked shrub that can grow up to 20’ tall.  It has a unique smooth, velvety, cinnamon-colored bark, glossy deep green leaves, and fragrant, white, single form flowers that bloom in late fall or early winter.

A series of cold winters destroyed or badly injured most collections of Camellias at the U.S. National Arboretum but the Tea-oil Camellia showed little or no winter injury making it an important species in the creation of cold-hardy cultivars.  Often the ‘Lu Shan Snow’ or the even more hardy ‘Plain Jane’ (so named because its flowers were not considered that attractive) will be one of the hybrid parents producing some spectacular cold-hardy ornamental Camellias. 

The species name oleifera is Latin meaning oil-bearing and is widely cultivated in China for its seeds.  Seed pods begin developing at the time of flowering and when mature will crack open.  The seeds can be pressed into a quality high-temperature oil that is used mostly in Asian countries for cooking. Tea oil is thinner than olive oil with a mild taste, tea-like aroma, and high in beneficial fats.  The seeds can also be used for propagation but the seeds are not true so will not produce an exact duplicate of the parent plant. To get exact duplicates of the original plant, propagation by root cuttings should be used.

In colder climates, it is best to plant Camellias on the north or northwest side of protective barriers such as buildings, larger plants, or hedges to minimize exposure to drying cold winds.  The Tea-oil Camellia can endure temperatures as cold as -10 ° F (USDA Zone 6) for brief periods.  Planting in the spring gives the plant ample time to establish itself before dealing with the summer heat stress or the rigors of winter.  This plant requires a partial shade location and will flower best in very light shade.  It prefers acidic (pH 5.5-6.5), moist, well-drained soil.  It is mildly resistant to damage by deer.

Insect and Disease Problems: Camellias are susceptible to viruses and some fungal diseases such as dieback, cankers, flower blight, and root rot.  Watch for scales, aphids, planthoppers, and spider mites which are especially problematic on stressed plants.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Lu Shan Snow'
    Smooth, velvety bark; medium white single form flowers; cold hardy
  • 'Plain Jane'
    Small to medium white flower; single form; slow dense upright growth; cold hardy
'Lu Shan Snow', 'Plain Jane'
Tags:
#evergreen#hardy#small tree#white flowers#pink flowers#large shrub#deer resistant#cold tolerant#partial shade tolerant
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Lu Shan Snow'
    Smooth, velvety bark; medium white single form flowers; cold hardy
  • 'Plain Jane'
    Small to medium white flower; single form; slow dense upright growth; cold hardy
'Lu Shan Snow', 'Plain Jane'
Tags:
#evergreen#hardy#small tree#white flowers#pink flowers#large shrub#deer resistant#cold tolerant#partial shade tolerant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Camellia
    Species:
    oleifera
    Family:
    Theaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    In Asia, the seed oil may be used for inks, lubricants, soaps, and cosmetics. The seed cake used as livestock feed and fertilizer.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southern China to Northern Indo-China
    Wildlife Value:
    Attracts pollinators and provides cover for wintering birds.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Fragrance
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Mildly resistant to deer
    Edibility:
    Oil pressed from seeds used for a high temperature cooking oil.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 10 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 10 ft. 0 in. - 15 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Oval
    Pyramidal
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Roundish woody capsule up to 1" in length.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Pink
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Good Cut
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Flower Petals:
    7 - 20 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    2-2.5 in., white or pink flowers in fall and winter; bright yellow stamens; fragrant. Petals are long and slightly twisted.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leathery
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblanceolate
    Obovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Alternate, simple, lustrous, leathery, dark green leaves; 1-3 in. long with pinnate venation.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Bark Description:
    Usually multiple trunks with cinnamon colored bark. Branches may droop and need pruning.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Recreational Play Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Asian Garden
    Children's Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Flowering Tree
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Problems:
    Frequent Disease Problems
    Frequent Insect Problems