Potted history of camellias
CAMELLIAS have been grown in the Far East for centuries, and many species can be found in the wild woodland areas of China, Japan, Malaysia and the Himalayas. They were first brought to Europe in the 18th century when they were considered highly ornamental, exotic and delicate and were grown as nonhardy plants, often in glasshouses.
Since these original Camellia species – mostly C. japonica, sasanqua and reticulata – were first cultivated, around 5,000 different types have been bred.
There are over 260 species and one of the rarest is the golden Camellia chrysantha, which is found in the rainforests of China and Vietnam. This beautiful shrub, which produces golden yellow blooms, is under threat in the wild as its habitat is being cleared. Sadly it does not suit the British climate, while the few
yellow hybrid camellias that are available here, such as C. japonica ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’, tend to be much paler, verging on white.
In China, camellias were prized for their foliage, and the sinensis species is the source of the tea leaves that generated centuries of trade between Europe and the Far East. Still harvested today, this camellia is specifically bred for its foliage, not its small white flowers – so don’t expect to make a cuppa from the dried leaves of the ornamental variety in your back garden!
Camellia sinensis is grown to make tea