Our connection to the natural world is so strong that we attach meanings to plants, and these meanings can be so culturally significant that it’s even frowned upon if they’re not acknowledged!
For example, red roses are without a doubt the most popular flower to give as a gift on Valentine’s Day. However, don’t even think about giving white roses to your significant other, as these symbolise loss in Western culture, and are often used in funeral settings.
When it comes to Camellia, this plant – which is native to eastern and southern Asia – has a range of meanings that differ from country to country. To some, it is simply the main ingredient of tea, while others believe in its significance in relation to love and devotion.
In this article, I go through the different meanings of the Camellia by country. But first, here’s a variety of Camellia that would appeal to all!
The eye catching Camellia Volunteer®
When people ask what’s so special about Camellia Volunteer®, I find it hard to settle on just one of its many unique and wonderful traits. However, if I were to be forced, I might have to say that its frosted pink petals are just to die for.
Each petal blends from deep magenta to frosted blush-white edges across textured 10cm blooms. Even from afar, they appear delightfully ruffled and stand out amongst the dark green foliage. This colour and texture combo gives it that extra edge over plainer varieties, but doesn’t look overpowering when planted en masse in a hedge formation.
That’s right, this Camellia is perfect for a hedge in a range of locations in your garden. Unlike other Camellias, this plant will tolerate full sun, so it will be as comfortable in the blissful afternoon rays as it would be in the partial shade of a tall pine.
But why stop at hedging? Camellia Volunteer® is ideal for borders and even pots, where it can be maintained as a shrub or small tree. If allowed, it can grow up to two metres in height with a spread of 1.5m – that’s perfect for creating extra privacy in an overlooked garden.
Lastly, I have to mention its low maintenance nature. After it has established, this Camellia can be relatively drought resistant and it’s unlikely to fall victim to pest infestations. In terms of pruning, lightly trim any damaged or dying branches that might spoil its appearance – it’s that simple!
Camellia Volunteer® is available from a range of garden centres, including Crocus.
What does Camellia symbolise?
Many Camellia varieties are native to China, and so the plant enjoys a symbolic significance in the country. Due to the way that Camellia flowers fall from their branches – all in one, rather than petal by petal – Chinese culture has bestowed the meaning of everlasting love and commitment upon this plant.
In Japan, the Camellia is called ‘tsubaki’, and has a significance that dates back to when samurai were the ruling political class in the country. To the samurai, the Camellia symbolised a dignified death. Now, its meaning is more on par with China’s interpretation: one of love and devotion.
Camellias were first brought to the UK in 1792 by Captain John Corner in his ship East Indiaman Carnatic, and are believed to have been planted at Chiswick House (where you can now view an abundant Camellia collection). In this time in Britain, Camellias were viewed as a prestige plant as they were always grown under glass, and as such they quickly became a symbol of wealth and luxury.
Although the country itself does not view the Camellia as culturally significant, two of its most well known figures have made a feature of the plant in their works. Alexander Dumas wrote the novel and stage adaptation La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), wherein the flower is a symbol of a courtesan’s sexual availability. French fashion designer Coco Chanel took inspiration from Dumas’ work, and created a synonymy between the Camellia and the Chanel brand; you can now find a white Camellia flower on Chanel box packaging.
In 1893, New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote. The suffragists (advocates of equal rights in voting) used a white Camellia as their symbol, and the flower was given to parliamentary supporters to wear in the House of Representatives. Many white Camellia trees were planted to commemorate the 125th anniversary of women’s achieving the right to vote.
Originally the goldenrod, the state flower of Alabama became the Camellia in 1959. Alabama has the ideal climate for Camellias, and so many varieties are cultivated there. You can even buy a Camellia named after the state (Alabama Beauty™).
What does the Camellia symbolise in your country? Tell me in the comments section below!