Camellias, in their many variations, are a signature plant of the Southern garden. Their bright blooms bring a warm splash of colour throughout fall and winter and into spring. There are many species of Camellia and within each species, there are a myriad of white, pink, red and rose cultivars. All Camellias are evergreen shrubs that grow 10 - 20 feet tall, depending on the species and location. Camellia sasanqua, the Sasanqua Camellia, blooms in the Fall and early Winter while Camellia japonica, the Japanese Camellia, opens a few brave flowers in December and bursts into full bloom in early Spring after the cold weather has past. These are the two most commonly planted Camellias but there are several others. For example, Camellia sinensis, the Tea Plant, has been grown for centuries so its leaves may be harvested to make tea. In addition to its use as a crop plant, Tea Plant is also a wonderful landscape plant; though more refined and less showy than its two cousins.
Another unusual Camellia is Camellia oleifera, the Tea-Oil Camellia. The Tea-Oil Camellia is more hardy than other Camellias and therefore is less likely to suffer frost burn on the flowers. Resembling the Sasanqua Camellia, this attractive shrub flowers in Fall and early Winter producing white or pinkish, 2 inch wide blooms with bright yellow stamens in the center of the flower. The charming flowers stand out against the glossy, emerald foliage like tiny white porcelain tea cups with gold centers.
Like all Camellias, the Tea-Oil Camellia prefers acid, moist, but well drained soil with high organic matter - similar to ideal conditions for Azaleas and Rhododendrons. Camellias have shallow root systems and don't do well if planted too deeply so take note of this when transplanting. For this reason its also important to water Camellias frequently during dry periods.
The exceptional hardiness of the Tea-Oil Camellia has been exploited by crossing it with other Camellias to produce two hybrids released by the National Arboretum called 'Frost Prince' and 'Frost Princess'. The flowers of both are different shades of deep pink, and while they are, therefore, a bit more colorful than Tea-Oil Camellia, the simple appeal of clear white and yellow blooms is missing in these hybrids.
The magic charm of Camellias can be brought to almost any Southern garden if Tea-Oil Camellia is allowed to be the reigning magician. White and gold blossoms will appear in the Fall as if from nowhere and their spell will resist winter's evil frosts. Plant Tea-Oil Camellia and let this wonderful shrub enchant your garden with the subtle delight of its hardy beauty.