As a flowering plant, the camellia produces pollen that is transferred by insects to the flower pistil, fertilizing the ovary eggs. Thus, a small seedpod is formed on the shrub, opening and scattering its seeds to the ground. A seed germinates when conditions are optimum, creating a young plant that slowly grows. This seedling will have a genetic code and physical appearance unlike that of its parent.
Camellia plants are a member of the tea family, Theaceae. They are flowering plants, grouped into the angiosperms in the plant kingdom. There are more than 250 species of camellia shrubs and trees in the world, all native to the moist woodlands of southern and southeastern Asia. Among the most famous camellias are tea (Camellia sinensis), Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), sasanqua (Camellia sasanqua), reticulate camellia (Camellia reticulata) and Camellia oleifera. All of these species are regarded for their attractive glossy evergreen foliage and their flowers, although tea is primarily used commercially and harvested for beverage-making.
Camellias, in general, flower outside of the warmth of the summer growing season. Some species flower in autumn, such as tea (Camellia sinensis) and sasanqua (Camellia sasanqua), while others are more winter to early spring flowering (Camellia reticulata, Camellia japonica and their numerous man-made hybrids).
Their waxy, small, rounded flower buds can be seen on the tips of branches above the foliage from summertime onwards. The buds break open as weather permits and according to species in their respective seasons.
Although there are six different forms of the camellia flower, they all are variations on the basic, natural flower of the camellia, which is a simple single-form blossom with up to eight petals around a central cluster of male-gendered stamens and female pistils, the neck leading to the ovaries.
Once the flower opens, the stamens ripen and split open to release pollen. Insects, mainly bees, visit the flowers and casually transfer the pollen grains to the pistils, facilitating pollination. Through the release of enzymes, the pollen grain moves through the tissues of the pistil to fertilize the ovary, creating an embryo.
The embryo develops inside a pod, slowly maturing and ripening, usually several months after the flowering occurred. The small, rounded seed pod is usually olive-green in color, but in some camellia species may be brown or red. The pod will fully dry and break open, shedding three to 12 dry seeds to the soil below.
The seed has genetic material that combines that of both the male pollen and the female ovary of the mother camellia. Thus, the seed is unique in its makeup and will have varied physical characteristics, different from that of the parent plant.
Camellia plants, on the whole, are slow-growing, a characteristic not favored by impatient plant breeders and admirers of camellias. Moreover, because seedlings from a camellia will differ in qualities, such as flower size or color, than the parent, there is a great chance that seedlings may physically grow into plants that do not have any favorable, ornamental characteristics.
For these reasons, camellia plants are often asexually, or vegetatively, reproduced by humans. A stem cutting is taken and allowed to form roots, and thus a new plant. Asexual reproduction creates new plants that are exactly the same as the plant from which they were harvested, ensuring the same ornamental or other desirable trait is retained.
New varieties of camellias arise only from sexual reproduction, the formation of seeds from a pollination event. Hundreds of seeds are raised to a size that reveals their flowers, and then plant breeders evaluate the flowers and deem them worthy of selection for garden use and market. Once selected, this plant is reproduced asexually to retain all of its desirable traits in later generations.