Camellia – Place their “Roots” here in Charleston!!

Camellia japonica
Camellia japonica

This is a flower that has great importance around the Charleston, South Carolina area.  It is commonly called the Camellia, Japanese Camellia, or Rose of the Winter.  The scientific name is Camellia japonica and is in the Theaceae family.  There are many different varieties and cultivars of this species of plant that have been produced over the years.  These flowers are blooming now here in Charleston and are some of the first flowers to start to bloom in the area.  This plant is not a native of South Carolina, or the United States for that matter.  They are native to Asia, and grow in Mainland China, Taiwan, Southern Korea, and Southern Japan.  The natural plant grows in forests at altitudes ranging 300-1100 M (980-3610 ft).  It is also the state flower of Alabama, even though it is not native.

This flower has a pretty interesting history.  It first appeared in paintings in China in the 11th Century.  The first time it appeared in the west was in Europe in 1692, and started to be cultivated there in the 18th Century.  Was first sold in the United States in 1807.  The site of Magnolia-on-the-Ashley (Now named Magnolia Plantation and Gardens) was planted with hundreds of cultivars of C. japonica plants.  One popular variety the “Sarah C. Hastie” later renamed the “Debutante” was originally introduced at Magnolia Plantation (which I think is the variety in my picture).  The Gardens at Magnolia Plantation were planted 325 years ago making them the oldest unrestored gardens in America.  They boast over 1,000 cultivars of the Camellia and 20,000 Camellia plants on display.  If you like flowers and gardening you should definitely check out these gardens during the peak blooming season.

Another cool fact about this C. japonica plant is that it has a very important cousin.  The Camellia sinensis is very closely related and has leaves are dried and used for a drink, called Tea.  Tea, whether you drink it warm or cold (with lots of sugar), it is the most widely consumed drink in the world.  Charleston does have North Americas only working Tea Plantation, named the Charleston Tea Plantation where they grow C. sinensis and harvest it to make tea.  Summerville, South Carolina, which sits just North of Charleston, brags that they are the “Birthplace of Sweet Iced Tea” and it is widely drank all through Charleston, South Carolina and the Southeastern United States. So these Camellia plants have a lot of “roots” here in Charleston, South Carolina and, as far as non-native plants go, they are pretty cool and important for the local economy.  Its cool to see these plants starting to bloom because it is the first sign that Spring is just around the corner.


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