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Plant Collections

Camellia Collection

We have 950 different Camellias in our collection, made up of species and cultivars, and the best place to satisfy your Camellia craving is by going straight to the Camellia Bed!  This large bed contains a beautiful range of Camellias of all shapes and sizes. 

Many are old Australian, Asian and European cultivars and some of the plants date back to 1875. 

In 1996, the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne’s collection of Camellias was named the Australian National Reference Collection by the Australian Camellia Research Society. RBG Melbourne aims to demonstrate the diversity of species within the genus Camellia and provide reference material for research.

Camellias have cultural, ornamental, economic,  medicinal uses and great horticultural potential. For example Camellia sinensis is harvested for tea production through out the world and Camellia oleifera is used for oil production for use in cooking and cosmetics.

When looking at the Camellias in the Gardens you might notice that their labels say that a plant is ‘Garden origin’.  This means that the original plant of this variety was not intentionally cultivated but grew spontaneously.

In addition to the Camellia Bed you can also discover Camellias at the following sites:

  • the Northern Lawn beside the Long Island development 
  • beside the Separation Tree Rest House 
  • The Oak Lawn border features some of the oldest species in the Gardens such as Camellia japonica ‘Bronacha’, C.japonica ‘The Czar’, C.japonica ‘Wellbankiana’ and C.japonica ‘Alba’ varieties.  There also some less well known species such as Camellia fraterna and the fragrant Camellia lutchuensis.

Best Viewed

  • Winter
  • June, July, August

Grow

Camellia lutchuensis - For a fragrant display of small white flowers in late winter.


Plant Census

Find out what plants grow at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.


Key Plants

Camellia nitidissima - Shrub 2-3 m tall, flowers golden yellow, massive fruit 5 cm in diameter.

Camellia reticulata - Large shrubs with open form and big showy flowers.

Camellia sinensis var. sinensis - Medium sized shrub for semi-shade, upside down shy white flowers.

Camellia tsaii - Elegant arching form with dainty white flowers.

Camellia grijsii - Upright form to 3 m, relatively drought hardy, pretty white flower.


Curator Notes

Most Camellias enjoy a partly shaded position, but there is the exception of some Camellias that do quite well in the sun although growing and flowering results are better if given some shade. Usually the sun tolerant Camellias are red or pink flowering species (for example Camellia japonica  ‘Bob Hope’, C. japonica ‘Great Eastern’, C. reticulata ‘Captain Rawes’).  

Camellias are not gross feeders. We only feed our Camellias with blood ‘n’ bone when planting or transplanting, this is to give them a good head start – our soils already have enough nutrients and organic matter to last them a century! 

Camellias like slightly acid to neutral ph levels and don’t like high levels of phosphorous, so it’s a good idea to find out the ph and soil nutrient levels before planting any type of plant. We mulch our Camellias annually which helps retain weeds, creates more organic matter and contains water within the soil.

Camellias need to be kept moist but not wet. They don’t like wet feet, so drainage is a very important key to a healthy Camellia. You may have seen a Camellia flower ball (this is when the flower doesn’t open); this is due to a lack of water during autumn. Quite often people forget to water during autumn because the weather cools down but often there’s no substantial rain to help maintain the Camellias watering needs.

Camellias respond well to a hard prune and the best time to prune is during mid to late winter. We try and deadwood our camellias annually which maintains their health and vigour. The Japanese have a theory that a ‘bird should be able to fly through a Camellia’– you may have seen a Camellia that has been trained to have a very open habit (Camellia japonica ‘The czar’, which is in the Camellia Bed, is a great example of this). But most of our Camellias have a very bushy appearance due to minimal pruning. 


History

The History of Camellias in the Gardens

Beautiful, fragrant and brilliantly coloured – Camellias have been among the Royal Botanic Gardens’ attractions for more than a century. Camellias were introduced to Europe from Japan, China and South East Asia in the 1600s. Settlers from Europe brought Camellias to Australia in the early 1800s.

William Guilfoyle, second Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, began this collection of Camellias. The plants were brought from Sydney, where Guilfoyle’s father grew them in a nursery in the early 1880s. Guilfoyle used camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons in the Gardens for their colour and the variations of their foliage. 

Alex Jessep, Director of the Gardens from 1941–1957, was also very interested in Camellias and it was his decision to create the dedicated Camellia Collection area. 

The Camellia was originally prized as a source of tea (Camellia sinensis) and oil (Camellia oleifera). The East India Company introduced the Camellia japonica variety to England by mistake. They thought that it was the tea variety.  Despite the failure of their commercial plans, Camellias quickly became prized for their beauty.