1902 Encyclopedia > Camellia


CAMELLIA, the name of a genus of Ternstromiaceai, remarkable for its evergreen laurel-like foliage, and its handsome rose-like flowers, whence the common species, C. japónica, is sometimes called the Japan rose. This is an evergreen shrub of remarkably hardy constitution, so that in our climate it flourishes perfectly in a cold green-house ; indeed, in the south and west of England, and in other favourable situations, the plant itself is hardy, and only suffers from frost in regard to the damage done to its flowers, which are naturally developed very early in the spring, and are therefore liable to suffer injury from spring frosts. The plant had been cultivated by the Japanese and Chinese long previous to its introduction to our gardens from China in 1739, and, in consequence, numerous double-flowered varieties were at that time known, of which about two dozen sorts were introduced from China, chiefly be-tween 1806 and 1824, some two or three others having been obtained so early as 1792-4. This number of varieties has now been very considerably increased by the production of European seedlings, so that several hundreds are figured in a publication called Nouvelle Iconographie des Camellias, specially devoted to their illustration. The plant seeds freely in the climate of Italy and the south of Europe, and thence many first-rate sorts have been obtained.

The original type of C. japónica forms a dense bushy evergreen, abundantly clothed with ovate acuminate glossy leaves, and decorated with sessile single red flowers com-posed of from five to seven (nominally five) broadly obovate rosy carmine petals, which expand info a cup-shaped flower, and surround a circlet of numerous monadelphous stamens, within which a few free stamens, two to each petal, are produced. These stamens afford a fine contrast to the broad spreading petals. This form, or one but slightly removed from it, is still cultivated in gardens, as a stock on which to graft the double-flowered sorts, these only, in a general way, being now prized. There are, however, some few exceptions, as, for example, the single white, whose large flowers, with their conspicuous stamens, are extremely handsome when associated with the rich-looking dark green foliage.

The name Camellia was given to these plants by Linnaeus in honour of George Joseph Camellus or Kamel, a Mor-avian Jesuit, who travelled in Asia, and wrote a history of the plants of the island of Luzon. In Japan, its native country, the Camellia attains to the size of a large tree, and it is held in high estimation by the Japanese on account of the extreme beauty of its large, showy, and various-coloured flowers, which, however, have this draw-back, that they have no scent. It appears to have been cultivated by the Chinese from time immemorial, and all our earlier introductions were obtained from that country. According to the Hortus Kewensis, it was introduced into England by Robert James, Lord Petre, before the year 1739; and the Waratah, or anemone-flowered variety, which has broad outer petals and a crowd of smaller central ones, is said to have been introduced at the same time. The double white, a variety as yet unsurpassed in beauty, its flowers being so pure in colour, and so full and symmetrically imbricated in form, was introduced in 1792 ; as also was the double striped, a free blooming hardy kind, with rosy red flowers irregularly blotched with white, which though surpassed in size and richness of colouring by more modern European varieties, is still too useful to be altogether dis-carded. The latest direct importations are probably the hexangular-flowered Camellia (hexangidaris), introduced from China by Mr Fortune in 1846, a variety which, like that called Lady Hume's Blush (incarnata), has the pointed petals laid directly over each other, so that the face of the flower becomes six-angled; and the fish-tailed Camellia, introduced in 1861, a variety in which the leaves are sharply serrated at the margin and forked at the apex, so that they resemble in form the tail of a fish.

To be seen in their full perfection Camellias should be planted out in borders of properly prepared soil under glass ; but these borders should be very effectually drained, and of such a mechanical composition as never to become soddened, for the plants require to be almost deluged with water when making their growth, and when develop-ing their blossoms. The borders, moreover, when the plants have become well established, and the soil is full of roots, will require to be assisted by top-dressings, such as sheep or deer dung, and by applications of liquid manure. They by no means require a heated structure, nor too much sun-light, but when well established in a cool and somewhat shaded conservatory, may become a source of infinite delight to those who have a love for flowers. As instances of the great esteem in which the Camellia is held, it is only neces-sary to refer to the immense number of cut blooms sold during the season in Covent Garden market, and the high prices which they realize while yet comparatively scarce.

The genus Camellia is limited to some six or seven species, natives of India and Japan. Of these, besides C. japónica, another named C. reticulata, a native of the island of Hong-Kong, is highly prized in gardens for its very handsome blossoms. It differs from C. japónica in its downy branches, and reticulated, not glossy leaves, and also in its much larger flowers. The double-flowered variety of this plant has a most gorgeous appearance, specimens of the flowers having been measured which were as much as twenty inches in circumference.

Both C. Sasanqua, (= oleífera), and C. drupifera (= Kissii), the former inhabiting Japan and China, the latter Cochin-China and the mountains of India, are oil-yielding plants. The oil of C. Sasan-qua (of which Sasankwa is the native Japanese name) has an agree-able 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 decoc-tion 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, its flowers also are odoriferous, all the other known species, except the Indian C. lutescens, being in-odorous.

The genus Camellia is very closely allied to that of the tea-plant (Thea) ; indeed so close is the affinity that some botanists have pro-posed to unite them. Dr Seemann, however, in a memoir published in the Transactions of the Liunean Society (xxii. 337), points out their distinctions, from which it appears that while in Camellia the flowers are erect and sessile, the calyx many-leaved with deciduous sepals, the interior stamens (those within the monadclphous ring) twice the number of petals, and the styles five in number, the flowers of Thea are pedunculate and nodding, the calyx five-sepaled With persistent sepals, the interior stamens equalling the petals in number, and the styles three. So close, however, is the agreement between them that the red-flowered Camellia Sasanqua, as it was for a long time called in gardens, has, as a result of more intimate acquaintance with its structure, to be referred to Tlua, under the name of Thea maliflora. Bentl.am and Hooker, in their new Genera Plantarum, have again united Thea with Camellia under the latter name, preferring to regard the teas as forming a section of the genus Camellia, which conclusion has been adopted by Professor Dyer in the Flora of British India (i. 202), where the Thea assamica of authors is referred to as the possible wild stock of the tea-plant, and the name of Camellia theifera adopted for the combined form called T, chinensis by Linnams and Seemann. (T. MO.)

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