If I asked you to name a plant that is a living symbol of history, elegance, and aristocracy, a legend of mythology and romance, what would you say? If I described to you an easy to grow evergreen flowering shrub with many uses, incredible ruggedness, and great beauty, what would you guess? If I were to tell you it is also the state flower of Alabama, would you now say - the Camellia? Yes, it is indeed the Camellia.
Although originally from Asia, camellias are best known as a traditional and popular Southern flower. It must have been camellias' ability to bloom in the dead of winter when everything else is asleep that first captured so much attention and admiration. With their evergreen foliage and delicate flowers, camellias have captured the hearts of numerous people for generations. Uniquely, camellias offer so much beauty and style that they are a long-established garden favorite and a must have among plant enthusiasts.
Japanese Camellia varieties, Camellia japonica, are the most widely grown of the camellia genus. Most Japanese camellias began blooming in December, but a few varieities will bloom up to March. The peak bloom time is mid-winter and offers us the perfect time to cherish their elegant beauty and style. Most can be found in old gardens and around long established homes; which proves that camellias have been prized for many generations.
At first glance, camellias with their large flowers, which may be red, pink, lavender, white, or a combination of each, and their dark evergreen leaves truly makes an lovely impression. But close observation will reveal that each one is unique and offers something a little different. You will be pleasantly surprised by all the many varieties there are to choose from.
More than 20,000 varieties, or cultivars, of camellias grown by amateur camellia hobbyists have been described. Flower colors, shapes, and bloom sizes show remarkable diversity. Camellias vary in color, size, and form depending on the season, location, soil, nutrition of the plant, and the aerial environment.
There are hundreds and hundreds of camellias worldwide. Most large camellias found in home landscapes were planted years ago and are varieties that were once popular 20 - 30 years ago. "Professor Sargent", "Debutante" , and "Pink Perfection", are examples of older varieties seen quite often. There are many more, but identifying them can be difficult unless you're experienced.
With so many different camellias to choose from, it would be impossible to suggest which ones would be best for you. Much of it is a matter of personal choice. However, do consider winter hardiness since camellias are best grown in Zones 7-9. Cold damage and bud death can be a problem. Visit your local plant nursery to find the right one for you or contact the American Camellia Society for a list of local favorites.
Since many camellias are currently in bloom, now is a great time to choose a camellia for your landscape. Once you see a camellia that is very different and quite beautiful, I believe you will have a new found admiration too. Besides, camellias are the state flower of Alabama and who doesn't want to preserve and honor that legacy.
Shane Harris is the County Extension Coordinator for Tallapoosa County.