One reason the hibiscus is one of my favorite flowers is because its flowers fall and fade so subtly, almost without notice – exactly the reason I am not fond of the camellia, whose withering blossoms stubbornly hang onto the branches and color the entire plant brown. At the Descanso Gardens’ Camellia Festival in Southern California this year, I finally learned about the blight caused by fungi and insects that affects the camellia flower. The 34,000 camellia plants covering the park’s 150-acre grounds are fertilized twice a year; spotted flowers are rare. I realized the plants in my garden have been infected by foreign agents and there is no readily available treatment.
During the hour-long walk, the docent, who is also the park’s horticulturist, led us to a few plants that exude a delightful fragrance. The camellia species Camellia Japonica and Camellia Reticulata do not have any fragrance, whereas Camellia Sasanqua does. The next time I see someone lean forward to smell a camellia blossom, I will try not to comment.
The more information the docent provided, the more intriguing and unique the camellia became. One camellia plant in my garden produces blossoms in drastically different colors and I thought of it a rarity; in fact, it is common. There are also plants with exactly the same flowers, but different shaped leaves. Some collectors are more interested in plants with a unique leaf shape, such as one that resembles a fish tail, than in plants with colorful blossoms. Yellow flowers do exist! If I heard correctly, Japan’s Iyo Camellia Society appreciates only camellias possessing irregular and asymmetrical characteristics.
Commercial cultivation of the camellia has declined with the introduction of orchids, not an unreasonable or surprising trend, as orchid blossoms are long lasting and in many’s eyes more splendid.
The tea plant is a different species, of course. The Camellia Sinensis does not exist at Descanso Gardens, but prior to the walk, the same horticulturist held an event entitled “Things to Do With Sinensis – Culinary and Wellness Applications.”