Camellia (pronounced /kəˈmɛliə/[2] or /kəˈmliə/[3]) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae.[1] They are found in tropical and subtropical areas in eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalayas east to Japan and Indonesia. There are more than 220 described species,[1] with some controversy over the exact number, and also around 3,000 hybrids.

Camellia sasanqua is used as a garden plant, its leaves are used for tea, and its seeds for oil
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Theaceae
Genus: Camellia

About 187, see text

  • Sasanqua Nees
  • Calpandria Blume
  • Camelliastrum Nakai
  • Desmitus Raf.
  • Drupifera Raf.
  • Piquetia Hallier f.
  • Salceda Blanco
  • Stereocarpus Hallier f.
  • Thea L.
  • Theaphylla Raf.
  • Theopsis Nakai
  • Tsia Adans.
  • Tsubaki Adans.
  • Yunnanea Hu

Of economic importance in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, leaves of C. sinensis are processed to create the popular beverage tea. The ornamental C. japonica, C. sasanqua and their hybrids are the source of hundreds of garden cultivars. C. oleifera produces tea seed oil, used in cooking and cosmetics.


The genus was named by Linnaeus after the Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel, who worked in the Philippines and described one of its species (although Linnaeus did not refer to Kamel's account when discussing the genus).[4]:246,255


Camellias are evergreen shrubs or small trees up to 20 m (66 ft) tall. Their leaves are alternately arranged, simple, thick, serrated, and usually glossy.

Flowers and fruit

Their flowers are usually large and conspicuous, one to 12 cm in diameter, with five to nine petals in naturally occurring species of camellias. The colors of the flowers vary from white through pink colors to red; truly yellow flowers are found only in South China and Vietnam. Tea varieties are always white-flowered. Camellia flowers throughout the genus are characterized by a dense bouquet of conspicuous yellow stamens, often contrasting with the petal colors.[5][6]

The so-called "fruit" of camellia plants is a dry capsule, sometimes subdivided in up to five compartments, each compartment containing up to eight seeds.


The various species of camellia plants are generally well-adapted to acid soils rich in humus, and most species do not grow well on chalky soil or other calcium-rich soils. Most species of camellias also require a large amount of water, either from natural rainfall or from irrigation, and the plants will not tolerate droughts. However, some of the more unusual camellias typically species from karst soils in Vietnam can grow without too much water.

Camellia plants usually have a rapid growth rate. Typically they will grow about 30 cm per year until mature though this does vary depending on their variety and geographical location.


Camellia plants are used as food plants by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species. Leaves of Camellia japonica are susceptible to the fungal parasite Mycelia sterile (see below for the significance), mycelia sterile PF1022 produces a metabolite named PF1022A that is used to produce emodepside, an anthelmintic drug.[7]

Mainly due to habitat destruction, several camellias have become quite rare in their natural range. One of these is the aforementioned C. reticulata, grown commercially in thousands for horticulture and oil production, but rare enough in its natural range to be considered a threatened species.

Use by humans

Camellia reticulata is rare in the wild but has been cultivated for hundreds of years.

Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, is of major commercial importance because tea is made from its leaves. The species C. sinensis is the product of many generations of selective breeding in order to bring out qualities considered desirable for tea. However, many other camellias can be used to produce a similar beverage. For example, in some parts of Japan, tea made from C. sasanqua leaves is popular.

Tea oil is a sweet seasoning and cooking oil made by pressing the seeds of C. oleifera, C. japonica, and to a lesser extent other species such as C. crapnelliana, C. reticulata, C. sasanqua and C. sinensis. Relatively little-known outside East Asia, it is the most important cooking oil for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in southern China.

Camellia oil is commonly used to clean and protect the blades of cutting instruments.

Camellia oil pressed from seeds of C. japonica, also called tsubaki oil or tsubaki-abura (椿油) in Japanese, has been traditionally used in Japan for hair care.[8] C. japonica plant is used to prepare traditional antiinflammatory medicines.[9]


Fossil record

The earliest fossil record of Camellia are the leaves of †C. abensis from the upper Eocene of Japan, †C. abchasica from the lower Oligocene of Bulgaria and †C. multiforma from the lower Oligocene of Washington, United States.[10]

Garden history

Camellias were cultivated in the gardens of China and Japan for centuries before they were seen in Europe. The German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer reported[11] that the "Japan Rose", as he called it, grew wild in woodland and hedgerow, but that many superior varieties had been selected for gardens. He was told that the plant had 900 names in Japanese. Europeans' earliest views of camellias must have been their representations in Chinese painted wallpapers, where they were often represented growing in porcelain pots.

The first living camellias seen in England were a single red and a single white, grown and flowered in his garden at Thorndon Hall, Essex, by Robert James, Lord Petre, among the keenest gardeners of his generation, in 1739. His gardener James Gordon was the first to introduce camellias to commerce, from the nurseries he established after Lord Petre's untimely death in 1743, at Mile End, Essex, near London.[12]

With the expansion of the tea trade in the later 18th century, new varieties began to be seen in England, imported through the British East India Company. The Company's John Slater was responsible for the first of the new camellias, double ones, in white and a striped red, imported in 1792. Further camellias imported in the East Indiamen were associated with the patrons whose gardeners grew them: a double red for Sir Robert Preston in 1794 and the pale pink named "Lady Hume's Blush" for Amelia, the lady of Sir Abraham Hume of Wormleybury, Hertfordshire (1806). The camellia was imported from England to America in 1797 when Colonel John Stevens brought the flower as part of an effort to grow attractions within Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.[13] By 1819, twenty-five camellias had bloomed in England; that year the first monograph appeared, Samuel Curtis's, A Monograph on the Genus Camellia, whose five handsome folio colored illustrations have usually been removed from the slender text and framed. Camellias that set seed, though they did not flower for more than a decade, rewarded their growers with a wealth of new varieties. By the 1840s, the camellia was at the height of its fashion as the luxury flower. The Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis, who died young in 1847, inspired Dumas' La Dame aux camélias and Verdi's La Traviata.

The fashionable imbricated formality of prized camellias was an element in their decline, replaced by the new hothouse orchid. Their revival after World War I as woodland shrubs for mild climates has been paralleled by the rise in popularity of Camellia sasanqua.

Modern cultivars

The tea camellia, C. sinensis, has many commercial cultivars selected for the taste of their leaves once processed into tea leaves.

Today camellias are grown as ornamental plants for their flowers; about 3,000 cultivars and hybrids have been selected, many with double or semi-double flowers. C. japonica is the most prominent species in cultivation, with over 2,000 named cultivars. Next are C. reticulata with over 400 named cultivars, and C. sasanqua with over 300 named cultivars. Popular hybrids include C. × hiemalis (C. japonica × C. sasanqua) and C. × williamsii (C. japonica × C. saluenensis). Some varieties can grow to a considerable size, up to 100 m2, though more compact cultivars are available. They are frequently planted in woodland settings, alongside other calcifuges such as rhododendrons, and are particularly associated with areas of high soil acidity, such as Cornwall and Devon in the UK. They are highly valued for their very early flowering, often among the first flowers to appear in the late winter. Late frosts can damage the flower buds, resulting in misshapen flowers.[14]

There is great variety of flower forms:

  • single (flat, bowl- or cup-shaped)
  • semi-double (rows of large outer petals, with the centre comprising mixed petals and stamens)
  • double:
    • paeony form (convex mass of irregular petals and petaloids with hidden stamens)
    • anemone form (one or more rows of outer petals, with mixed petaloids and stamens in the centre)
    • rose form (overlapping petals showing stamens in a concave centre when open)
    • formal double (rows of overlapping petals with hidden stamens)

AGM cultivars

The following hybrid cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:

NameParentageHeightSpreadFlower colourFlower typeRef.
Cornish Snowcuspidata × saluenensis2.51.5whitesingle[15]
Cornish Springcuspidata × japonica2.51.5pinksingle[16]
Francie L8.08.0rose-pinkdouble[17]
Freedom Bell× williamsii2.52.5redsemi-double[18]
Inspirationreticulata × saluenensis4.02.5rose-pinksemi-double[19]
Leonard Messelreticulata × × williamsii4.04.0rose-pinksemi-double[20]
Royaltyjaponica × reticulata1.01.0light redsemi-double[21]
Spring Festival× williamsii, cuspidata4.02.5pinksemi-double[22]
Tom Knudsenjaponica × reticulata2.52.5deep reddouble paeony[23]
Tristrem Carlyonreticulata4.02.5rose pinkdouble paeony[24]


Camellia fraterna
Flower buds of an unspecified camellia
Fruits of an unspecified camellia
Camellia japonica - MHNT
Camellia azalea
Camellia petelotii

Plants of the World Online currently includes:[1]

  1. Camellia albata Orel & Curry
  2. Camellia amplexicaulis (Pit.) Cohen-Stuart
  3. Camellia amplexifolia Merr. & Chun
  4. Camellia anlungensis Hung T.Chang
  5. Camellia assimiloides Sealy
  6. Camellia aurea Hung T.Chang
  7. Camellia azalea C.F.Wei
  8. Camellia brevistyla (Hayata) Cohen-Stuart
  9. Camellia bugiamapensis Orel, Curry, Luu & Q.D.Nguyen
  10. Camellia campanulata Orel, Curry & Luu
  11. Camellia candida Hung T.Chang
  12. Camellia capitata Orel, Curry & Luu
  13. Camellia cattienensis Orel
  14. Camellia caudata Wall.
  15. Camellia chekiangoleosa Hu
  16. Camellia cherryana Orel
  17. Camellia chinmeiae S.L.Lee & T.Y.A.Yang
  18. Camellia chrysanthoides Hung T.Chang
  19. Camellia concinna Orel & Curry
  20. Camellia connata (Craib) Craib
  21. Camellia corallina (Gagnep.) Sealy
  22. Camellia cordifolia (F.P.Metcalf) Nakai
  23. Camellia costata S.Y.Hu & S.Y.Liang
  24. Camellia costei H.Lév.
  25. Camellia crapnelliana Tutcher Crapnell's camellia
  26. Camellia crassicolumna Hung T.Chang
  27. Camellia crassipes Sealy
  28. Camellia crassiphylla Ninh & Hakoda
  29. Camellia cuongiana Orel & Curry
  30. Camellia cupiformis T.L.Ming
  31. Camellia curryana Orel & Luu
  32. Camellia cuspidata (Kochs) Bean
  33. Camellia dalatensis V.D.Luong, Ninh & Hakoda
  34. Camellia debaoensis R.C.Hu & Y.Q.Liufu
  35. Camellia decora Orel, Curry & Luu
  36. Camellia dilinhensis Ninh & V.D.Luong
  37. Camellia dongnaicensis Orel
  38. Camellia dormoyana (Pierre ex Laness.) Sealy
  39. Camellia drupifera Lour.
  40. Camellia duyana Orel, Curry & Luu
  41. Camellia edithae Hance
  42. Camellia elizabethae Orel & Curry
  43. Camellia elongata (Rehder & E.H.Wilson) Rehder
  44. Camellia erubescens Orel & Curry
  45. Camellia euphlebia Merr. ex Sealy
  46. Camellia euryoides Lindl.
  47. Camellia fangchengensis S.Ye Liang & Y.C.Zhong
  48. Camellia fansipanensis J.M.H.Shaw, Wynn-Jones & V.D.Nguyen
  49. Camellia fascicularis Hung T.Chang
  50. Camellia flava (Pit.) Sealy
  51. Camellia flavida Hung T.Chang
  52. Camellia fleuryi (A.Chev.) Sealy
  53. Camellia fluviatilis Hand.-Mazz.
  54. Camellia forrestii (Diels) Cohen-Stuart
  55. Camellia fraterna Hance
  56. Camellia furfuracea (Merr.) Cohen-Stuart
  57. Camellia gaudichaudii (Gagnep.) Sealy
  58. Camellia gilbertii (A.Chev.) Sealy
  59. Camellia glabricostata T.L.Ming
  60. Camellia gracilipes Merr. ex Sealy
  61. Camellia grandibracteata Hung T.Chang, Y.J.Tan, F.L.Yu & P.S.Wang
  62. Camellia granthamiana Sealy Grantham's camellia
  63. Camellia grijsii Hance
  64. Camellia gymnogyna Hung T.Chang
  65. Camellia harlandii Orel & Curry
  66. Camellia hatinhensis V.D.Luong, Ninh & L.T.Nguyen
  67. Camellia hekouensis C.J.Wang & G.S.Fan
  68. Camellia hiemalis Nakai
  69. Camellia honbaensis Luu, Q.D.Nguyen & G.Tran
  70. Camellia hongiaoensis Orel & Curry
  71. Camellia hongkongensis Seem.
  72. Camellia hsinpeiensis S.S.Ying
  73. Camellia huana T.L.Ming & W.J.Zhang
  74. Camellia ilicifolia Y.K.Li
  75. Camellia impressinervis Hung T.Chang & S.Ye Liang
  76. Camellia indochinensis Merr.
  77. Camellia ingens Orel & Curry
  78. Camellia insularis Orel & Curry
  79. Camellia × intermedia (Tuyama) Nagam.
  80. Camellia inusitata Orel, Curry & Luu
  81. Camellia japonica L. East Asian camellia
    synonym Camellia rusticana snow camellia
  82. Camellia kissii Wall.
  83. Camellia krempfii (Gagnep.) Sealy
  84. Camellia kwangsiensis Hung T.Chang
  85. Camellia lanceolata (Blume) Seem.
  86. Camellia langbianensis (Gagnep.) P.H.Hô
  87. Camellia laotica (Gagnep.) T.L.Ming
  88. Camellia lawii Sealy
  89. Camellia leptophylla S.Ye Liang ex Hung T.Chang
  90. Camellia ligustrina Orel, Curry & Luu
  91. Camellia longicalyx Hung T.Chang
  92. Camellia longii Orel & Luu
  93. Camellia longipedicellata (Hu) Hung T.Chang & D.Fang
  94. Camellia longissima Hung T.Chang & S.Ye Liang
  95. Camellia lucii Orel & Curry
  96. Camellia lutchuensis T.Itô
  97. Camellia luteocerata Orel
  98. Camellia luteoflora Y.K.Li ex Hung T.Chang & F.A.Zeng
  99. Camellia luteopallida V.D.Luong, T.Q.T.Nguyen & Luu
  100. Camellia luuana Orel & Curry
  101. Camellia maiana Orel
  102. Camellia mairei (H.Lév.) Melch.
  103. Camellia maoniushanensis J.L.Liu & Q.Luo
  104. Camellia megasepala Hung T.Chang & Trin Ninh
  105. Camellia melliana Hand.-Mazz.
  106. Camellia micrantha S.Ye Liang & Y.C.Zhong
  107. Camellia mileensis T.L.Ming
  108. Camellia mingii S.X.Yang
  109. Camellia minima Orel & Curry
  110. Camellia mollis Hung T.Chang & S.X.Ren
  111. Camellia montana (Blanco) Hung T.Chang & S.X.Ren
  112. Camellia murauchii Ninh & Hakoda
  113. Camellia namkadingensis Soulad. & Tagane
  114. Camellia nematodea (Gagnep.) Sealy
  115. Camellia nervosa (Gagnep.) Hung T.Chang
  116. Camellia oconoriana Orel, Curry & Luu
  117. Camellia oleifera C.Abel oil-seed camellia, tea oil camellia
  118. Camellia pachyandra Hu
  119. Camellia parviflora Merr. & Chun ex Sealy
  120. Camellia parvimuricata Hung T.Chang
  121. Camellia paucipunctata (Merr. & Chun) Chun
  122. Camellia petelotii (Merr.) Sealy synonyms:
    C. chrysantha, C. nitidissima yellow camellia
  123. Camellia philippinensis Hung T.Chang & S.X.Ren
  124. Camellia pilosperma S.Yun Liang
  125. Camellia pingguoensis D.Fang
  126. Camellia piquetiana (Pierre) Sealy
  127. Camellia pitardii Cohen-Stuart
  128. Camellia pleurocarpa (Gagnep.) Sealy
  129. Camellia polyodonta F.C.How ex Hu
  130. Camellia psilocarpa X.G.Shi & C.X.Ye
  131. Camellia ptilophylla Hung T.Chang
  132. Camellia pubicosta Merr.
  133. Camellia pubifurfuracea Y.C.Zhong
  134. Camellia pubipetala Y.Wan & S.Z.Huang
  135. Camellia pukhangensis N.D.Do, V.D.Luong, S.T.Hoang & T.H.Lê
  136. Camellia punctata (Kochs) Cohen-Stuart
  137. Camellia pyriparva Orel & Curry
  138. Camellia pyxidiacea Z.R.Xu, F.P.Chen & C.Y.Deng
  139. Camellia quangcuongii L.V.Dung, S.T. Hoang & Nhan
  140. Camellia reflexa Orel & Curry
  141. Camellia renshanxiangiae C.X.Ye & X.Q.Zheng
  142. Camellia reticulata Lindl.
  143. Camellia rhytidocarpa Hung T.Chang & S.Ye Liang
  144. Camellia rosacea Tagane, Soulad. & Yahara
  145. Camellia rosiflora Hook.
  146. Camellia rosmannii Ninh
  147. Camellia rosthorniana Hand.-Mazz.
  148. Camellia rubriflora Ninh & Hakoda
  149. Camellia salicifolia Champ.
  150. Camellia saluenensis Stapf ex Bean
  151. Camellia sasanqua Thunb.
  152. Camellia scabrosa Orel & Curry
  153. Camellia sealyana T.L.Ming
  154. Camellia semiserrata C.W.Chi
  155. Camellia septempetala Hung T.Chang & L.L.Qi
  156. Camellia siangensis T.K.Paul & M.P.Nayar
  157. Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze – tea plant
  158. Camellia sonthaiensis Luu, V.D.Luong, Q.D.Nguyen & T.Q.T.Nguyen
  159. Camellia stuartiana Sealy
  160. Camellia subintegra P.C.Huang
  161. Camellia synaptica Sealy
  162. Camellia szechuanensis C.W.Chi
  163. Camellia szemaoensis Hung T.Chang
  164. Camellia tachangensis F.S.Zhang
  165. Camellia tadungensis Orel, Curry & Luu
  166. Camellia taliensis (W.W.Sm.) Melch. – also used to make tea like C. sinensis
  167. Camellia tenii Sealy
  168. Camellia thailandica Hung T.Chang & S.X.Ren
  169. Camellia thanxaensa Hakoda & Kirino
  170. Camellia tienyenensis Orel & Curry
  171. Camellia tomentosa Orel & Curry
  172. Camellia tonkinensis (Pit.) Cohen-Stuart
  173. Camellia transarisanensis (Hayata) Cohen-Stuart
  174. Camellia trichoclada (Rehder) S.S.Chien
  175. Camellia tsaii Hu
  176. Camellia tsingpienensis Hu
  177. Camellia tuberculata S.S.Chien
  178. Camellia tuyenquangensis V.D.Luong, Le & Ninh
  179. Camellia uraku Kitam.
  180. Camellia villicarpa S.S.Chien
  181. Camellia viridicalyx Hung T.Chang & S.Ye Liang
  182. Camellia viscosa Orel & Curry
  183. Camellia vuquangensis V.D.Luong, Ninh & L.T.Nguyen
  184. Camellia wardii Kobuski
  185. Camellia xanthochroma K.M.Feng & L.S.Xie
  186. Camellia yokdonensis Dung bis & Hakoda
  187. Camellia yunkiangica Hung T.Chang, H.S.Wang & B.H.Chen
  188. Camellia yunnanensis (Pit. ex Diels) Cohen-Stuart

Cultural significance

Portrait of a New Zealand suffragette, circa 1880. The sitter wears a white camellia, symbolic of support for advancing women's rights.

The Camellia family of plants in popular culture.

See also

  • List of Award of Garden Merit camellias


  1. "Camellia L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2021. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  2. "camellia". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. "camellia". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  4. Kroupa, Sebestian (November 2015). "Ex epistulis Philippinensibus: Georg Joseph Kamel SJ (1661–1706) and His Correspondence Network". Centaurus. 57 (4): 229–259. doi:10.1111/1600-0498.12099. ISSN 1600-0498.
  5. Mair and Hoh (2009).
  6. The International Camellia Society. Flowers of Camellias.
  7. Harder et al. (2005)
  8. How to Use Japanese Camellia (Tsubaki) Oil. .
  9. Majumder, Soumya; Ghosh, Arindam; Bhattacharya, Malay (2020-08-27). "Natural anti-inflammatory terpenoids in Camellia japonica leaf and probable biosynthesis pathways of the metabolome". Bulletin of the National Research Centre. 44 (1): 141. doi:10.1186/s42269-020-00397-7. ISSN 2522-8307.
  10. Journal of Plant Research, September 2016, Volume 129, Issue 5, pp 823–831, Camellia nanningensis sp. nov.: the earliest fossil wood record of the genus Camellia (Theaceae) from East Asia by Lu-Liang Huang, Jian-Hua Jin, Cheng Quan and Alexei A.
  11. Kaemfer, Amoenitates exoticae, 1712, noted by Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Camellia".
  12. Coats (1964) 1992.
  13. The New York Botanical Garden, Curtis' Botanical Magazine, Volume X Bronx, New York: The New York Botanical Garden, 1797
  14. RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  15. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Cornish Snow' (cuspidata × saluenensis) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  16. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Cornish Spring' (cuspidata × japonica) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  17. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Francie L' AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  18. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Freedom Bell' AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  19. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Inspiration' (reticulata × saluenensis) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  20. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Leonard Messel' (reticulata × williamsii) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  21. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Royalty' (japonica × reticulata) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  22. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Spring Festival' (cuspidata hybrid) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  23. "RHS Plant Selector Camellia 'Tom Knudsen' (japonica × reticulata) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  24. "Camellia 'Tristrem Carlyon'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  25. "State Flower of Alabama". Official Symbols and Emblems of Alabama. Alabama Department of Archives and History. February 6, 2014. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  26. Toni Boornazian (November 23, 2020). "Camellia: The "Winter's Rose"". Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association. Retrieved 2022-08-10.

Further reading

  • Harder, A.; Holden–Dye, L.; Walker, R. & Wunderlich, F. (2005): Mechanisms of action of emodepside. Parasitology Research 97(Supplement 1): S1-S10. doi:10.1007/s00436-005-1438-z (HTML abstract)
  • Mair, V.; Hoh, E. (2009): The True History of Tea. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-25146-1.
  • F. Camangi, A. Stefani, T. Bracci, A. Minnocci, L. Sebastiani, A. Lippi, G. Cattolica, A.M. Santoro: Antiche camelie della Lucchesia (Storia, Botanico, Cultura, agronomia novità scientifiche e curiosità; Orto Botanico Comunale di Lucca). Edition ETS; Lucca, 2012. Italian.
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