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Camellia, the State Flower of Alabama

Although Alabama's State Flower is the Camellia, this popular Southern shrub is native to Asia. The first Camellias were brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1700's by the French botanist Andre' Michaux. Camellias are one of my favorite winter blooming plants. Camellias are often thought of as the Rose of Winter. There are thousands of different types of camellias, but most often what you see falls into one of two categories: Japonica and Sasanqua.

Camellia Japonica has glossy evergreen leaves and large blooms that may be any shade of white, red, or pick. Some even have "variegated" blooms that are spotched or striped. Blooms which can sometimes be very large come in several forms: single, double, semi-double, or peony type. Flowers hold up well indoors. I like to display them in a clear glass bowl.

Sasanqua Camellias have glossy evergreen foliage too, but the Sasanqua has different characteristics. Blooms are looser and appear more delicate, but the plant itself seems easier to grow. Sasanquas tolerate more sun that the Japanese Camellia, and they grow faster and larger too. 

By having a variety of both Japanese and Sasanqua Camellias in the garden, one can have blooms from Fall all the way into Spring. All camellias prefer some shade. Morning sun is okay, but give your camellias some protection from hot afternoon sun. They are all surprisingly drought tolerant once established, but you'll need to water regularly the first few years to get your shrubs established.

A good reference book to add to your collection would be Camellias: The Gardener's Encyclopedia, by Jennifer Trehane.

Although I do love camellias, personally, I think the State Flower should be one that is native to that state. But that's just me. What do you think?