The best thing about camellias in the landscape, and the main
reason to grow them, is their flowers. They are large and showy (but
non-fragrant) and are three to six inches across, with petal colors from white
through pink to red, with yellow centers. Depending on the species and variety,
they bloom from fall to early spring, when not many other plants are blooming.
Their leaves are alternate, simple, and ovate, about two to five inches long
with a pointy tip and fine, sharp serration. They are also thick and leathery in
texture, and in color are dark and shiny green above and green below. The fruit
is a dry seed capsule. Camellias grow to about 15 feet in height, with smooth
light brown or grey bark.
They grow best in partial shade—with too little shade, leaves
can scald, with too much, flowering is reduced. They prefer moist, acidic,
well-drained soils rich in humus, and so are frequently planted in woodland
settings alongside other calcifuge plants (those that do not like alkaline soil)
such as rhododendrons and azaleas. They are not drought tolerant. Camellias are
used as food plants by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species.
To develop the above description, we used many sources, including Michael Dirr’s
Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (Champaign, Illinois: Stipes Publishing,
LLC, 1998), and the following websites: Dendrology at Virginia Tech
(dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/main.htm), the University of Connecticut Plant
Database (www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/), Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), the Lady
Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (www.wildflower.org), and the American Camellia