Plant of the Month April 2017

World traveller - Roamers in the plant world:

Camellia japonica, ‘Pillnitzer Camellia’

(Planted in the Dresden castle grounds since 1801.)

Gardeners and explorers have ventured out into the wide world for many centuries. According to legend, the Swedish botanist and student of Linné, Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828) brought four camellia plants (Camellia japonica) from his trip to Japan (1775–1776) to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, near London. Thunberg, who worked a total of one year and five months as a doctor at the Dutch trading post on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki, visited England in 1779 on his journey back to Sweden. Although recent genetic research cannot prove this Thunberg legend, the also cannot unfortunately clarify the plant’s exact origin.  

There are 82 species of small evergreen trees and shrubs from the Theaceae (Teegewächse) classified under the name camellia. They are native to Southeast and East Asia.  

One specimen of the early botanical “Souvenir” is still in Kew, the other three plants are said to have been passed on to the royal gardens of Herrenhausen near Hannover, Schönbrunn in Vienna and Pillnitz near Dresden. Today, it is assumed that the ‘Pillnitzer Camellia’ arrived to the Dresden court between 1780 and 1790.  

The court gardener Terscheck planted them in the royal garden of Dresden in 1801 in a spot where they remain to this day. From the beginning, they were covered in winter. Initially with straw and raffia mats, then later with wooden houses built and dismantled in a complicated manner that were heated. In 1992, the ‘Pillnitzer Camellia’ received its first mobile shelter. This regulates temperature, ventilation, humidity as well as shade and measures 13.2 meters in height and weighs 54 tons. From mid October to mid May, the camellia spends the colds months in the shelter at a temperature of 4–6°C. In the warm season, the house is rolled next to the camellia, so that the plant can stand unsheltered in the park.  

The camellia in Dresden-Pillnitz is now more than 230 year old and reaches a height of 8.60 meters, a diameter of nearly 11 meters and a circumference of about 33 meters.  

The flowering period falls in the months of February to April. The more than ten thousand flowers on the 'Pillnizer Camellia' are unfilled, carmine red and inspire viewers with their ever-impressive of abundance. The path spans two levels along the winter quarters take visitors around the entire plant. Those ‘Pillnitzer Camellia’ whose single flowers are considered a symbol of friendship, elegance and harmony in Chinese and Japanese gardens, is one of the oldest plants of the genus and species Camellia japonica in Europe.