Plant of the month December 2016

Flourish with us ...

Camellia sasanqua – the Christmas camellia

Unique shrubs make for a sensation and excitement all around especially in the otherwise somewhat dark and gloomy season. Camellia sasanqua, commonly known as the autumn or Christmas camellia grows like shrub and has a good network of branches, yet also shows its lovely charm when cultivated as a tree. The foliage is evergreen, the leaf is broad elliptic, shiny dark green with a serrated margin. Camellia sasanqua is a very hardy ornamental plant that is extremely easy to care for and is also particularly suitable as a container plant. The appeal of camellias are especially the individual blossoms, in addition to its attractive dark green foliage. A special highlight is to place individually plants lovingly surrounded by a bed of fallen petals in a solitary spot on the lawn in a circle with a spotlight shining on them.  

Early bloomers such as Lonicea x purpusii or Chimonanthus praecox with subtle, reserved flowers are perfect additions to sasanquas. Camellia sasanqua and its varieties tolerate full sun, its flowers have a light fragrance and they appear in the fall from the end of November, and not in early spring as is typical with camellias. Camellias can be pruned easily if they grow too large for their space. A well-drained, moisture-retentive, slightly acidic soil is beneficial and promotes the growth of blossoms.  

Camellias have enjoyed a long tradition in Japan and China and were primarily grown not for decorative but rather practical reasons. The leaves have traditionally been used to make tea. Tea seed oil was made from the seeds or nuts which was used for illumination, as a lubricant, for cooking or for cosmetic purposes, among other things. Tea seed oil has a much higher calorific value than any other edible oil available in Japan. Camellia sasanqua was named by Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828), a Swedish physician, botanist and protégé of Linnaeus. Thunberg visited Japan (at that time closed to most Europeans) from 1775–1778 while in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, and many of the plants he saw there were described in his  , publThunberg visited Japan from 1775 to 1778 while he was serving the Dutch East India Company. He described many of the plants he saw there in his Flora Japonica which was published in 1784. Other camellias species such as the rare Camellia reticulata, among others, were brought to the Western World from China by Captain Richard Rawes of the East India Company in 1820. It was a plant that was reserved for the elite classes such as the aristocracy due to its rarity and cost. The camellia genus includes over 200 species, including Camellia sinensis (tea). In 1869, Dutch traders imported the first specimens of Camellia sasanqua to Europe. This variety was previously unknown to the Western World. In addition to the Camellia sasanqua variety, there are some particularly exclusive Sasanqua varieties now commercially available:

  • ‘Cleopatra’: Pink flower, half filled
  • ‘Hino de Gumo’: White flower, simple with pink edge
  • ‘Kanjiro’: Dark pnk flower, lightly filled
  • ‘Yuletide’: Red flower, simple with yellow stamen