Red camellia blossoms on glossy green leaves are a striking addition to any outdoor garden. Like poinsettias, they add a touch of Christmas to any scene--in fact, the Camellia sasanqua Yuletide is named for the effect. Camellias are hardy and their evergreen foliage requires little pruning, making them a pleasantly low-maintenance choice for hedges, borders and color accents.
The term "red camellia" can refer to any of several plants. Most often it refers to a red-flowering variety of the Camellia genus (family Theaceae), often a member or hybrid of the species Camellia japonica. There is also a type of begonia (family Begoniaceae) known as "red camellia begonia." Finally, homeopathic suppliers sell a "red camellia flower essence," which some identify as Camellia appacia.
Camellia japonica, like all camellias, is a flowering evergreen shrub popular in border landscaping, hedging and decorative gardening. Its leaves remain a deep, glossy green all year-round. The five main categories of camellia flowers (of all colors) are single, semi-double, anemone, peony and formal double. The plant can reach a height of 25 feet, though most do not grow beyond 10 to 12 feet, and a width of 6 feet or more.
There are more than 3,000 varieties, cultivars, and hybrids of Camellia japonica, whose flowers range in color from white through pink to a deep red.
Camellias are hardy to USDA zones 6 through 9 and are especially popular in the southeastern United States. In colder climates, mulch well to protect the shallow root system from frost.
They prefer partial shade but will require more sun in colder climates. Take care to protect blossoms from early morning sun, which can make petals brown and limp, and roots from overheating.
Camellias thrive in moist, acidic soil.
Camellias bloom between late winter and early spring, depending on the variety, making them a good choice for adding color to a winter landscape. The range and length of the flowering season varies among species. For instance, Camellia sasanqua Yuletide begins blooming in October and continues through January.
Prune camellias in the spring (mid-February through early May, depending on the variety) after flowering but before new shoots appear.
The camellia has been cultivated the longest in Japan, Korea, China and India. Its name comes from that of a Jesuit missionary, George Kamel. Camellia japonica, as the species name would suggest, picked up its moniker in Japan.
In the European "language of flowers," red camellias might mean "alas, my broken heart," "I admire you greatly" or "you possess inward beauty and goodness."
In Japan, the traditional symbolism of camellias included extreme faithfulness to one's lord and sudden death, the latter because of the way the red blossoms fall suddenly off the bush. They were long considered unlucky. The leaves, however, being evergreen, had more positive connotations.
The camellia (variety unspecified) has been the state flower of Alabama since 1959.