by Behnke's Guest Writer Cindy Watson of Cam Too Camellia Nursery, Inc
Cindy used to work for Behnke Nurseries as our Woody Plants Buyer
Tis the season when the spring camellias are blooming. Of course some camellia species have been blooming since September of last year. With the overlapping of various cultivars, a show of camellias can last from September through April. It is with amazement that one can look out the window on an 18 degree day in February and see a flower. You have to run outside to see if it is true or simply a cardinal sitting on a branch. If you ever have the chance to attend a camellia show, it will take your breath away. Hundreds of blooms sitting on tables in little glass jars awaiting their judgement. Prizes are given to the winners, but the shows are open to the public to enjoy. These are usually held January-March, and again in November.
There are over 100 species of camellias. Most people are only familiar with japonica and sasanqua. However, over the last 25 years or so, much hybridizing has been done with various species to develop and enhance specific traits, such as spring-blooming camellias that tolerate full sun. Fragrance. Dwarf types. Size of flowers- from one inch to 8". Ones that would be quite happy along the Northeast coast to Canada. What used to be thought of only as a Southern plant is now available to a much wider area of the country. By the way, camellias first entered into this country in Boston and Philadelphia. It wasn't till much later that they worked their way south.
Besides being the only thing blooming during the winter (except pansies), camellias are a fabulous choices for drought tolerance. They are evergreen, have no thorns, and have various habits and heights. This would include columnar, bushy, spreading; and fast, loose, uprights that could be used for trellising. They look great trained into a topiary because of their beautiful smooth bark. Mature heights would include 3' to 14'or more, fast or slow. Of course the plant will grow faster in a warmer place--the gardener should choose the correct plant for the correct spot. Pruning and fertilization should be done at the end of April for all types.
You might be interested to know that the beverage tea is brewed from the leaves of a species of camellia:Camellia sinensis. This would include Japanese green tea, iced, and hot black tea. Same plant, different preparations. Several cultivars of Camellia sinensis exist. They bloom in the fall, with small white or pink flowers along every leaf node. These are the tea leaves thrown into the Boston Harbor 200 years ago! Another popular drink, chai, is made with dried tea, various spices, milk and/or honey.
So, however you enjoy camellias--as a plant, as flowers floating in bowls of water, as a corsage, or as a drink, please do so with pleasure, knowing you are carrying on a tradition with a long history.