The winter months is fast approaching which means our collection of camellias at Madison Square Park will begin to bloom. Camellias belong to the genus Camellia, a group of approximately 80 to 200 plants that are native to Asia. They are of special importance in Japanese culture, particularly when they were introduced to the West in the 1790s. Known as the Tsubaki in Japan, camellias were believed to be where the gods dwelt when they visited the earth; as a result, Tsubaki plants can often be found around temples, shrines, and graveyards. When the flower finishes blooming, camellia blossoms fall off the plant in their entirety instead of losing petals singly as most flowers would. In Japan, this is called ochitsubaki (“fallen Tsubaki”) and came to be associated with beheading, which is the reason camellias were considered unfit for use as cut flowers.
Camellia japonica is the most popular species grown ornamentally and was introduced to the West in the 1700’s. Today, the camellia is an extremely popular garden plant, especially in the Camellia Belt located in the warmer regions of the U.S. where they grow well—the American Camellia Society has almost 800 registered varieties. While C. japonica is the most popular ornamental species, having more than 2,000 different cultivars alone, Camellia sinensis is by far the most grown member of this genus. C. sinensis, also known as a common tea plant, is the source of leaves used to produce the world’s supply of tea (6.1 million tonnes in 2017). Our collection of ornamental camellias will bloom through the winter in the Park, gracing the garden beds with their pink and white blooms when most other plants have already gone dormant.