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Camellia sasanqua ‘White Doves’ (photo courtesy of Kimberley Navabpour)
Camellia sasanqua ‘White Doves’ (photo courtesy of Kimberley Navabpour)

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Zone
Zones 4-9, 12, 14-24, 26-31, H1
Partial Sun
Partial
Regular Water
Moderate

Camellia japonica

Theaceae
Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees

CAMELLIA

Camellias grow over a wider latitude range along the West Coast than anywhere else. Typically loaded with white, pink, red, or variegated blooms during the cool season, many of these robust shrubs flower heavily when other bloom is scarce. Native to southern and eastern Asia, they are unscented except as noted.

Big C. japonica varieties are the most popular, with fall- and winter-flowering C. sasanqua varieties coming in second. All are classic understory shrubs that thrive in filtered shade. They also grow well in pots.

There are six camellia forms: Anemone, formal double, peony, rose-form double, single, and semidouble.

Camellia japonica ‘Alba Plena’ (photo courtesy of Stephanie Massey)
Camellia japonica ‘Alba Plena’ (photo courtesy of Stephanie Massey)

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Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica is the plant most gardeners have in mind when they speak of camellias. It is naturally a large shrub or small tree, but is variable in size, growth rate, and habit. Hundred-year-old plants in California reach 20 ft. high and equally wide, and even larger specimens exist. Most gardeners, however, can consider japonicas to be shrubs 6–12 ft. high and wide. Many are lower growing.

Higo camellias are a category of japonicas that has been bred for more than 200 years in Japan. Generally compact plants, they have dense, heavy foliage and thick-petaled single flowers with a broad, full brush of stamens in the center. In the ideal Higo camellia, the mass of stamens should be at least half the diameter of the flower. Colors include white, pink, and red—both solid and variegated, as with regular japonicas.

Included here are japonica varieties that are current favorites among Western gardeners, as well as a number of old standbys whose beauty belies their age. Some are among the oldest varieties still in commerce, having been brought to Europe and the U.S. from China and Japan in the 19th century or even earlier (these venerable camellias are noted by date of introduction in the text).

Season of bloom is specified as early, midseason, or late. In California, early means October to January; midseason, January to March; late, March to May. In the Southwest, early means October to December; midseason, January and February; late, March and April. In the Northwest, early means December to February; midseason, March and April; late, May.

Flower size is also noted for each variety. Very large blooms are over 5 in. wide; large, 4–5 in.; medium-large, 3 1/2–4 in.; medium, 3–3 1/2 in.; small, 2 1/2–3 in.; and miniature, 2 1/2 in. or less.

Camellia japonica ‘Bob Hope’
Camellia japonica ‘Bob Hope’

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‘Bob Hope’

Midseason. Large to very large, deep red semidouble blooms have prominent golden stamens. Large, vigorous plant.

‘Carter’s Sunburst’

Midseason. Large to very large flowers, semidouble to peony form to formal double, in pale pink striped with deeper pink. Medium-size, compact plant.

‘Debutante’

Early to midseason. Medium-large, light pink peony-form flowers. Profuse bloomer. Vigorous upright growth. Tolerates considerable sun.

‘Eleanor McCown’

Midseason. Medium, white semidouble to anenome-form flowers dramatically streaked with red and pink.

‘Elegans Splendor’

Early to midseason. Anemone-form flowers sport white-margined pale pink petals with fringed edges.

‘Elegans’

May be sold as ‘Chandler’, ‘Francine’, or ‘Chandleri Elegans Pink’. Early to midseason. The founder of a large and growing family of sports. The original plant is slow growing and spreading, bearing large anemone-form blossoms in rose-pink; center petaloids are often marked with white.

‘Glen 40’

Also known as ‘Coquettii’. Midseason to late. Large, deep red formal double blooms. One of the best reds for corsages. Slow, compact, upright growth. Handsome even out of bloom. Hardy; especially good in containers.

‘Guilio Nuccio’

Midseason. Considered by many to be the world’s finest camellia. Coral-rose, very large semidouble flowers of unusual depth and substance have inner petals fluted in “rabbit ear” effect. Vigorous upright growth. Forms with variegated, fringed blossoms are available.

‘Kramer’s Supreme’

Midseason. Very large, full peony-form flowers in clear red. Some detect a faint fragrance. Compact, upright, unusually vigorous. Takes some sun.

‘Kumasaka’

Midseason to late. Medium-large, rose-pink rose-form double to peony-form flowers. Vigorous, compact, upright growth and remarkably heavy flower production make it a choice landscape plant. Hardy. Takes morning sun.

‘Magnoliiflora’

Midseason. Medium, pale pink semidouble flowers. Heavy bloomer; good cut flower. Medium-size plant with spreading form. Hardy.

‘Mathotiana’

Midseason to late. Very large rose-form double to formal double blooms in deep crimson, sometimes with purplish cast. Vigorous, upright grower. Takes cold and stands up well in hot-summer areas.

‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’

Early through midseason. Bears many large, crimson-red formal blossoms over a long period, even on young plants.

‘Nuccio’s Gem’
‘Nuccio’s Gem’

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‘Nuccio’s Gem’

Midseason. Medium to large, white, perfectly formed formal double blooms. Full, upright plant.

Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’ (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’ (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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‘Nuccio’s Pearl’

Midseason. Medium, full formal double blossoms are white with a rim of deep pink outer petals

Camellia japonica ‘Pearl Maxwell’ (photo courtesy of Doreen L. Wynja/Monrovia)
Camellia japonica ‘Pearl Maxwell’ (photo courtesy of Doreen L. Wynja/Monrovia)

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‘Pearl Maxwell’

Midseason to late. Large, soft shell-pink flowers with formal double form.

‘Pink Parade’

Midseason. Large, clear pink semidouble to peony form flowers. Erect and slow growing plant.

‘Silver Waves’

Early to midseason. Large white semidouble blooms with wavy petal edges.

Camellia japonica ‘Spring’s Promise’ (photo courtesy of Doreen L. Wynja/Monrovia)
Camellia japonica ‘Spring’s Promise’ (photo courtesy of Doreen L. Wynja/Monrovia)

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‘Spring’s Promise’

Early to midseason. Red single flowers bloom freely in winter.

‘Swan Lake’

Midseason to late. Very large white flowers with formal double to peony form. Vigorous, upright growth.

‘Tom Knudsen’

Early to midseason. Medium to large blooms in dark red with deeper red veining. Formal double to peony form to rose-form double.

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