CAMELLIA, a genus or subgenus of evergreen trees or shrubs belonging to the natural order Ternstroemiaceae, with thick dark shining leaves and handsome white or rose-coloured flowers. The name Camellia was given by Linnaeus in honour of George Joseph Camellus or Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit who travelled in Asia and wrote an account of the plants of the Philippine Island, Luzon, which is included in the third volume of John Ray’s Historia Plantarum (1704). Modern botanists are agreed that the tea-plant, placed by Linnaeus in a separate genus, Thea, is too nearly allied to Camellia to admit of the two being regarded as distinct genera. Thea and Camellia are therefore now considered to represent one genus, which has been generally called Camellia, but more correctly Thea, as this name was the earlier of the two. Under the latter view Camellia is regarded as a subgenus or section of Thea. It contains about eight species, natives of India, China and Japan. Most of the numerous cultivated forms are horticultural products of C. japonica, a native of China and Japan, which was introduced into Europe by Lord Petre in 1739. The wild plant has red flowers, recalling those of the wild rose, but most of the cultivated forms are double. In the variety anemonaeflora nearly all the stamens have become transformed into small petaloid structures which give the flower the appearance of a double anemone.
Another species, C. reticulata, a native of Hongkong, is also prized for its handsome flowers, larger than those of C. japonica, which are of a bright rose colour and as known in cultivation semi-double or double.
Both C. sasanqua and C. drupifera, the former inhabiting Japan and China, the latter Cochin-China and the mountains of India, are oil-yielding plants. The oil of C. sasanqua (of which sasankwa is the native Japanese name) has an agreeable odour and is used for many domestic purposes. It is obtained from the seeds by subjecting them to pressure sufficient to reduce them to a coarse powder, and then boiling and again pressing the crushed material. The leaves are also used in the form of a decoction by the Japanese women for washing their hair; and in a dried state they are mixed with tea on account of their pleasant flavour. The oil of C. drupifera, which is closely allied to C. sasanqua, is used medicinally in Cochin-China. The flowers of these two species, unlike those of C. japonica and C. reticulata, are odoriferous.
Camellias, though generally grown in the cool greenhouse, are hardy in the south of England and the south-west of Scotland and Ireland. They grow best in a rich compost of sandy peat and loam, and should not be allowed to get too dry at the roots; a liberal supply of water is especially necessary during the flowering period. The best position—when grown out of doors—is one facing north or north-west, with a wall or hedge behind for protection from cold winds. July is the best time for planting; care must be taken that the roots are evenly spread, not matted into a ball.
The plants are propagated by layers or cuttings, and the single-flowered ones also by seeds. Cuttings are taken in August and placed in sandy peat or loam in a cold shaded frame. In the following spring those which have struck are placed in a gentle heat, and in September or October the rooted plants are potted off. Camellias are also propagated by grafting or inarching in early spring on stocks of the common variety of C. japonica.
The scale insect sometimes attacks the camellia. To remove the white scale, the plants are washed with a sponge and solution of soft soap as soon as their growth is completed, and again before the buds begin to swell. The brown scale may be got rid of by repeated washings with one of the many insecticides, but it should be applied at a temperature of 90°.