Camellias: history, cultivation, anecdotes and love for camellias

Camellias: history, cultivation, anecdotes and love for camellias


Virtue of camellias and feelings for camellias

Camelia Uti Sacco

Camellia has a long and fascinating history in China and Japan, the two main countries where it originated. For many centuries the camellia, called by the Japanese "tsubaki", that is tree with shining leaves, had an important role in thought and in society, but above all in the religious sphere and wherever the presence of the divine was perceptible.

Even today, young married couples kneel in front of a large camellia tree and touch an old root with their fingertips: with this act they spoke with their God.

Beautiful Roman Camellia

Camelia Japonica Gigantea

It is only around 1930, with the advent of new hybrids obtained from J.C. Williams, that the camellia resumes a new notable impulse which is followed in 1948 by the sudden appearance of the camellia "Reticulata" which gave rise to a considerable interest in the creation of new and wonderful varieties.

And lastly, it is worth mentioning the camellia "Chrisantha"with yellow flower and the considerable commercial impulse given by the placing on the market of the new ones "miniature" camelliasto small flowers and leaves.

The result of long and laborious research done by eminent hybridizers is now evident. The camellia, "the japan rose", now has numerous beautiful species and varieties sought everywhere (perhaps less in Italy) for their beauty, for the size that the plants can reach (up to 8-10 meters), for their duration (in full earth up to 4-500 years), for the brightness of the evergreen leaves and for the belief that it makes those who cultivate them live for a long time, so much so that even today the festival is celebrated in Japan "The year of the camellia"in favor of camelophiles who enter their ninetieth year of age.

Camelia Alba plena

Camelia Margherita Colleoni

Few plants possess such dazzling beauty throughout the year, so as to impress with the perfection and elegance of the flowers and to suggest that the Eternal Father created the camellia for the delight of mankind.

Someone wrote that the rose is admired in all parts of the world: it smiles when all of nature smiles. Not so the camellia.

It smiles when the lawns and gardens are sad, when the fields and plants are covered with winter drapery.

Camellia is a link between the last leaves of autumn and the first buds of spring. The colors and shapes of the flowers are so varied and interesting that one almost has the impression that nature has done everything to overcome itself.

Camelia Contessa Lavinia Maggi

Camelia Warratha Rubra

In China there is a proverb that goes like this:

"If you want to live happily one day: get drunk
If you want to live happily for a month: kill the pig
If you want to live happily for a year: get married
If you want to live a happy life: grow camellias "

Camelia Margherita Serra

The French usually say:

"Pas le jardin sans camellia, the plus beautiful shrubs of la Creation".

An English enthusiast of camellias

in one of his articles entitled: "Don't grow camellias if you don't like surprises", he asked himself many questions about the feelings that can arise from the sight and passion for camellias: "What is strange about camellias that arouses curiosity of people? Why can you drive so many miles to buy camellias or to attend a camellia show? Many say camellias attract men because they remind them of women, but because women say camellias are as tough and stubborn as men ?But why? Well, says the author of the article, I think I know. I believe because they are so unpredictable, so mischievous. So full of surprises. They drag their owners to dream and lose even a little balance (we would say the north wind). Moreover, you never enter your garden or greenhouse where there are camellias, without a sense of anguish, expectation. Wait what? Well, almost everything! "

Camelia Uti Sacco

I agree with what the author of the article wrote, in particular on the loss of a little balance. How interesting and stimulating is the little bit of madness that takes possession of anyone who has any hobby.

Camelia Virginia Franco Rosea

To have a good knowledge of the care that the camellia must have, it is good to keep in mind two concepts

, namely:
  1. know something of its origins and its natural environment;
  2. remember that camellia (like other plants) is a living being.

Once aware of the natural environment of the camellia, that is, where, how and in what environmental conditions it thrives without any care on the part of man, it is necessary to try to obtain environmental conditions similar to natural ones as much as possible, bearing in mind that in kind:

  • Camellia is a plant of the forest, which grows in hilly areas, with many trees and shrubs that provide shelter from the strong wind and strong sun and, at the same time, to nourish it with the leaves and branches fallen to the ground, transformed in "humus" by microorganisms;
  • the climate is temperate (subtropical zones);
  • in areas where the rains are abundant.

Copying from nature, the conditions to be respected for the cultivation of camellia are:

  • well-ventilated soil rich in especially organic nutrients;
  • constant humidity around the roots, but not excessive (camellias do not like to keep their feet in water);
  • good shelter from strong wind and strong sun;
  • slightly acidic soil (ph 5.5-6.5)
  • need to maintain an atmosphere rich in humidity around the plants (camellia is happy to be in the company of other plants)

These five requirements are all essential and interdependent. Ignoring even one decreases the effectiveness of the other four.

In particular for the camellia:


  • it must be porous (to allow good drainage), soft (to allow the roots to penetrate easily), rich in nutrients, organic species (rotting leaves, forest soil, pine needles, peat, pine bark, shavings, etc.);
  • it must also allow good drainage by using perlite, vermiculite, shavings, pine bark, sand, fine pumice, etc. ;
  • it must have good water retention facilitated by peat, vermiculite, pumice, etc .;
  • it must be free from harmful substances.


in partial shade, especially the Japonic camellias. Sasauqua camellias and reticulate can be in a more sunny position. Never in full shade to avoid scarce flowering, preferable exposure to the North and East, away from plants with superficial roots. Camellias must never be exposed to too much wind, to avoid a rapid dehydrating action, and must be sheltered from severe frost, especially at the roots.


a good mulch made with organic substances is very beneficial to the camellias. It should be applied all around the camellia plant, especially on the drip line and without touching the trunk. By decomposing, the organic substance provides nourishment to the plant, improving the texture and structure of the soil, preserves the soil moisture and protects the roots from severe changes in temperature.


when placed in good soil, the camellia does not need excessive fertilization. A good rule of thumb when planting is the use of slow release fertilizers (Osmocote, Plantosan, etc.), and a good mulching. If it is necessary to apply chemical fertilizers, do it very sparingly. Good rule: "often and little". If the plants are suffering no fertilizer.


a right dosage of water is essential for the good health of the camellia. Too much water, if drainage is insufficient, creates root problems. Too little water, especially if the camellia is small, first causes withering, then leaves fall and then the death of the plant.Often times, when the camellia struggles to make flower buds or has a tendency to drop the buds before flowering , the reason is due to the scarcity of water during the summer. Never be afraid of getting too wet the camellias when the drainage is well done and the soil is soft.


The pruning of camellias is important to obtain plants with beautiful shape and to allow light and air to circulate easily (the English say that birds must be able to fly inside the plant or also that it must be possible to see through the plant itself: to see through)

Do the pruning before the camellias begin to put new vegetation. A light pruning can be done throughout the year, especially if the dead, weak, tapered, inward-facing and clumsy branches are removed. Unfortunately, in general, you are too afraid to prune or not prune at all.

Simultaneously with the pruning it is useful to unbutton the extra-large buds, especially in the varieties of camellias that tend to make clusters of buds at the ends of the branches.


The best time to put the camellias in the open ground is at the beginning of autumn and during the rest period of the plant that is during the flowering, but more preferably at the beginning of the vegetation. Particular attention must be paid not to break the bread of the earth.

Wet the freshly placed camellias well.

If several roots are broken, the foliar apparatus must be reduced in proportion

If you cultivate camellias with care and attention you will find that:

  • they are very versatile: by selecting the different varieties of camellias it is possible to obtain interesting contrasts in the shape and method of use as hedges, espaliers, as a ground cover umbrella, for hanging pots, etc .;
  • by staggering the different flowering times of the different varieties and species of camellias it is possible to obtain a spectacular display of colors for 6-7 months.
Finally, don't forget that giving a camellia to a woman means expressing esteem and admiration.

Gen. Ettore Rolando

Note: The photos and diagrams of the various types of camellias were taken from the brochure of the 1st Exhibition of the Camellia in 1991 organized by the Garden Club - Sorrento Peninsula

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Video: Growing Camellias