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Camellia Flowering Begins in Autumn

This article was first published on 04 May 2012.

Camellia puniceiflora

Camellia puniceiflora

We are hesitant to admit that summer is over, but when the first camellias start to flower we know we are in autumn. In the Camellia Collection in the lower Dunedin Botanic Garden, the camellias flower from April through to November. The autumn flowering camellias are usually cultivars of Camellia sasanqua, but there are also a few true camellia species.

This year, the species Camellia puniceiflora is flowering better than ever. Its name suggests this flower is perhaps a little puny. I prefer to consider it dainty. Camellia puniceiflora has a small single pink flower with 5 or 6 petals, which can reach 6 centimetres across. In reality the flowers on the botanic garden shrubs are usually much smaller. The petals are variable in size and are the softest pink with a slight sheen.

You’ll have to get down on your knees – and it’s worth it - to appreciate the delicate apple blossom fragrance because the shrubs at the garden are well under 1 metre high. These slow growing bushes have a natural weeping habit and can eventually grow up to 2 metres.

Several of the autumn flowering sasanqua camellias have also started to flower. Due to their stems’ flexibility and the plants’ enjoyment of warmth several plants have been trained up against the tea kiosk wall.

Explore the camellia collection with a colour coded map, available from the information centre, which shows where the camellia species and sasanquas are planted.

Marianne Groothuis is the camellia and themes plant collection curator at Dunedin Botanic Garden.