Camellia is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae and native to eastern and southern Asia from the Himalaya east to Japan and Indonesia. Different botanists vary in their numbering of distinct species, with anything from 100-250 species being accepted.
They are evergreen shrubs and small trees from 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; color varies from white to pink and red, and yellow in a few species. The fruit is a dry capsule subdivided into 1-5 compartments, each containing 1-8 seeds.
The genus is generally adapted to acidic soils and does not grow well on chalk or other calcium-rich soils. Most species will not tolerate drought and have a high rainfall requirement.
Cultivation and uses
Camellia sinensis is of major commercial importance for tea, which is made from its leaves.
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. sasquana, with over 300 named cultivars. Popular hybrids include C. x hiemalis (C. japonica x C. sasquana) and C. x williamsii (C. japonica x C. salouenensis). 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.
The Camellia is the state flower of Alabama.