There are over 200 camellia species thought to exist in the world today, with many of these species being unfamiliar to avid camellia growers. Camellia Japonica has been the most popular camellia in the south for over one hundred and fifty years. Like all camellia species, Camellia Japonica originated in the orient. It is native to southern Japan, the Kiu Kiu Archipelago which includes the Taiwan island of Formosa, three additional islands off the coast of China, and the extreme southern part of Korea. For many years, southern gardeners have simply referred to Camellia Japonicas as “camellias”, almost to the point of not realizing that any other camellia species exist.
Japonicas have truly been a southern favorite for many years, but they first arrived in the United States in an unlikely location. In the late seventeen hundreds, Camellia Japonicas began to be imported to some of the northeastern states such as New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts where they were used as greenhouse plants. In the early to mid eighteen hundreds, Philadelphia became a major hub for the production of Japonicas in this country. Many of these plants eventually made their way into the southern gardens. It is believed that during the 1830’s, many of the first southern camellia gardens were began. Around this period of time, many famous camellia plantings such as those at Middleton Place and Magnolia Gardens near Charleston were began with the installation of many of these new and exciting Japonicas. During the years following the American Civil War, interest in Japonicas was receiving less attention as the country concentrated its efforts on reconstruction. It was not until the years after World War 2 that Japonicas and other camellia species began to become popular in the south when gardeners recognized their tremendous landscape potential. Japonicas began to be planted in just about every landscape. It was during this period of time from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s that Japonicas and camellias in general enjoyed their greatest popularity.
The blooms of Camellia Japonica have been enjoyed by southern gardeners for years as corsage flowers and also for floral cut flowers. In addition the absolutely beautiful blooms, the foliage of Japonicas are certainly one of the most attractive foliages among camellia species. Generally, the foliage of Camellia Japonica is dark green on large oval leaves. This provides a rich background for the stunning floral displays.
Japonicas’ growth habits range from low growing compact shrubs to vigorous growing plants that can ultimately reach a height of twenty five feet or larger. All Japonicas do well in filtered light conditions such as those found under the high canopies of Oaks or Pines in the south. Certain Japonica cultivars such as ‘Marc Eleven’ and ‘Faith’ have performed extremely well in full sun locations. Flower forms of Japonicas cover the entire list of single, semi-double, anemone, peony, rose form double, and formal double. Certain varieties of Japonicas, such as ‘Arajishi’ and ‘Daikagura’ bloom extremely early in the south with blooms sometimes beginning to open in August. Other Japonicas, such as ‘Grace Albritton,’ are late bloomers with blooms still opening in late April. Floral colors in Japonicas range from pure white to various shades of pink and red with many variations in between. Also, many Japonicas such as ‘Betty Sheffield’ are known to have mutations of sports. This means that they may have a bloom or a limb with many blooms that is different from the blooms on the majority of the plant.
Camellia Japonica is probably the most popular species of camellia in the southern United States. Its landscape potential makes it a worthy addition to any southern garden. With its rich, dark green foliage, and magnificent floral display, no southern landscape should be without Camellia Japonica.
Early Autum - Very fine example of A Camellia Japonica
Tudor Baby Variegated
Royal Velvet - Camellia Japonica