[kuh-meel-yuh, -mee-lee-uh]
camellia [for G. J. Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit missionary], any plant of the genus Camellia in the tea family, evergreen shrubs or small trees native to Asia but now cultivated extensively in warm climates and in greenhouses for their showy white, red, or variegated blossoms and glossy, dark-green foliage. The tea plant is Camellia sineusis. Several species yield oil from the seeds, e.g., the widely cultivated C. japonica (commonly called japonica) and C. sasanqua and, especially, the Asian C. oleifera, the source of tea-seed oil used in textile and soap manufacture and, when suitably refined, for cooking. C. oleifera has also been used to develop cold-hardy hybrid flowering camellias. Camellias are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Theales, family Theaceae.

Camellia (Japanese: 椿 Tsubaki) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae, native to eastern and southern Asia from the Himalaya east to Japan and Indonesia. There are 100–250 existent species, with some controversy over the exact number. The genus was named by Linnaeus after Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel.

They are evergreen shrubs and small trees 2–20 m tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, thick, serrated, usually glossy, and 3–17 cm long. The flowers are large and conspicuous, 1–12 cm diameter, with (in natural conditions) 5–9 petals; colour varies from white to pink and red, and yellow in a few species. The fruit is a dry capsule, sometimes subdivided into up to 5 compartments, each compartment containing up to 8 seeds.

The genus is generally adapted to acidic soils, and does not grow well on chalk or other calcium-rich soils. Most species also have a high rainfall requirement and will not tolerate drought. Some Camellias have been known to grow without much rainfall.

Camellia species are used as food plants by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species. See List of Lepidoptera that feed on Camellia.

Cultivation and uses

Camellia sinensis is of major commercial importance because tea is made from its leaves. Tea oil is a sweet seasoning and cooking oil made by pressing the seeds of Camellia sinensis or Camellia oleifera.

Many other camellias are grown as ornamental plants for their flowers; about 3,000 cultivars and hybrids have been selected, many with double flowers. Camellia japonica (often simply called Camellia) 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). They are highly valued in Japan and elsewhere for their very early flowering, often among the first flowers to appear in the late winter. Late frosts can damage the flowers.

PF1022A, a metabolite of Mycelia sterile, a fungus that inhabits the leaves of Camellia japonica is chemically altered to synthesise emodepside, an anthelmintic drug.

Camellias have a slow growth rate. Typically they will grow about 30 centimetres a year until mature although this varies depending on variety and location.

As a favourite flower


Camellia japonica is the state flower of Alabama as well as the city flower of Sacramento, California; Newberg, Oregon; Slidell, Louisiana; the Chinese municipality Chongqing; and of Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture, Japan as well as New Zealand.



  • The heroine of the novel The Lady of the Camellias always wears a camellia as her symbol. She was based on the real-life French courtesan Marie Duplessis.
  • In Akira Kurosawa's 1962 film, Sanjuro, the main character takes on the surname 'Tsubaki' meaning camellia, which he happened to be looking at when asked for his name.
  • The 1942 film Now Voyager starring Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale a middle aged spinster woman who is treated psychiatrically and as part of her treatment goes away on a cruise. While there she is romanced by a very charming Paul Henreid who affectionately calls her Camille and gives her camellias.
  • In the manga Fruits Basket, the character Akito has a fondness for the camellia. This is because her true love, the character Shigure, gave her a camellia in their youth and proclaimed his love for her.
  • In the manga Soul Eater, the character Tsubaki is named for the flower, and it is constantly brought up in episodes 10 and 11, that the way the scentless flower dies is tragic and unsettling, a reference to what would've occurred in battle, if Tsubaki hadn't had the emotional support from her partner, which allowed her to succeed in the fight against her brother, as she claimed that the Camellia did in fact have a scent.
  • In chapter 11 of the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Jem receives one from the old lady he took care of after her death.

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