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Camellia japonica

Common Name(s):
Camellia, Japanese camellia

Numerous Cultivars are available. Camellia is one of those old southern favorites. It blooms in early spring when not much else is blooming and adds color to what might otherwise be considered a dreary landscape. Bloom color ranges from white to all shades of pink and red. The flower size is quite variable ranging from a two inches diameter up to five inches.  Depending upon the camellia variety, flowering may start as early as October and finish as late as mid March. The flowers on each plant will usually last three to four weeks.

There are several different species of camellia available. The most common are this Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) and Sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) and many hybrids of the two. Other varieties include tea-oil camellia (Camellia oleifera), tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) and Yennen camellia (Camellia reticulata). These other varieties are often used in hybridizing to bring specific genetic traits such as flower color or size, plant shape, or flower fragrance into landscape varieties.  See Camellia Hybrid Winter Series for more information on cold tollerant hybrids.  

Most camellias prefer shade to part-shade with some protection from drying winter winds. Sasanqua varieties are more tolerant of sunny locations, are more resistant to root rot, and usually bloom in late fall to early winter. All camellias grow best in well-drained soils that are high in organic matter and slightly acidic (pH 5.5 – 6.5). They are slow to grow and slow to establish, but are long-living plants in the landscape. There are some plants in Japan that are known to be over 500 years old. Because plants are slow to establish it is best to dig a large hole, 3-4 times larger than the root ball, to reduce competition for water and nutrients from surrounding trees and shrubs. After planting, use a two to three inch layer of mulch to help maintain soil moisture around the plant. These plants are mildly resistant to damage by deer.

Excess sun, cold or shade can reduce flowering; there are numerous cultivars available.

8-15 ft.
Alternate, simple, lustrous, leathery, dark green leaves; 2-4 in. long; some yellowing of foliage can occur in winter with direct sun
3-5 in. semi-double to double flowers in winter or spring; white, pink, red, rose, variegated; not fragrant
Partial shade (pine shade is ideal); prefers acidic, moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter
Upright, dense, pyramidal or columnar shrub; stiff and formal
5-10 ft.
TSC, deer resistant, evergreen

NCCES plant id: 1453

Camellia japonica Camellia japonica leaves and flower
Photo by Scott Ackerman, CC BY - 2.0
Camellia Japonica Camellia Japonica - Whole Plant
By Forest_and_Kim_Starr, CC BY - 2.0
Camellia Japonica Camellia Japonica - Whole Plant
By Leonora_Enking, CC-BY-SA-2.0