The camellia (Camellia spp.) has been hybridized for centuries to produce colorful and showy flowers in a range of colors from white, pink and red to blends of violet-red, blackish red and shades in-between. The blossoms are normally without any fragrance, are waxy-petaled and bloom from autumn to spring, depending on the plant species.
Camellias are broadleaf evergreen shrubs native to eastern Asia with glossy dark green foliage. Tea is a camellia (Camellia sinensis) more known for its dried foliage in making a beverage, but its white autumnal flowers are ornamental. The common camellia (Camellia japonica) usually begins flowering in mid-winter and continues into mid-spring. Likewise, the reticulate camellia (Camellia reticulata) flowers from the latest throngs of winter across the springtime. Sasanqua (Camellia sasanqua) is beloved for flowering in the waning sunlight of autumn, from mid-autumn through mid-winter.
Thousands of hybrids and cultivated varieties, or cultivars, have been developed. They include the species above as well as combining the ornamental qualities of Camellia oleifera, Camellia rosiflora and Camellia nitidissima. Standard hybrids include Camellia x maliflora and Camellia x vernalis. Interestingly, if a camellia hybrid or cultivar bears any fragrance, chances are that Camellia yuhsienensis or Camellia fraterna is somewhere in its lineage.
Camellias naturally bloom in tones of red, pink or white. However, breeding and selection by man has broadened the realm of colors to include violet-red, blackened red, rose, fuchsia, magenta, silvery white and lavender. Rarely will a pastel yellow camellia be found. The extensive breeding also gives rise to highly ornate flowers that are striped or mottled with two or three colors, such as a white-flowering camellia with irregular spotted flecks of red and rose.
The size of camellia flowers are generally described and named according to these guidelines: miniature, less than 2 1/2 inches in diameter; small, 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter; medium, 3 to 4 inches in diameter; large, 4 to 5 inches in diameter; very large, more than 5 inches in diameter.
Although generalized estimations, the flowering season is often used by enthusiasts and growers when discussing camellia plants. Early-season camellias flower before Jan. 1. Mid-season camellias bloom from Jan. 1 through March 1, and late-season camellias bloom after March 1. These designations are appropriate only in the Northern Hemisphere.
The extensive breeding and selection of camellias over centuries has led to many ornamental mutations in the size, shape and number of petals in the camellia flower. Six flower forms are used to describe the flowers to be expected from a camellia plant: Single, one row of up to eight petals surrounding a mass of stamens, the pollen-carrying short filaments; semi-double, two or more rows of petals, with outermost petals larger sized than those in the center; anemone-form, one or two rows of petals surrounding a mass of short petaloids and stamens; peony-form, a complex mix of petals, short petaloids and stamens that may or may not be hidden; rose-form double, overlapping petals, largest on outside, shortest in center, around stamens; formal double, with multiple rows of petals, with the center lacking any stamens whatsoever.
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