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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, H1
Partial Sun
Partial
Regular Water
Moderate

Camellia japonica ‘Guilio Nuccio’

Theaceae
Evergreen, Shrubs, Flowers

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.

‘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.

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