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Camellia Meaning and Symbolism

bold red camellia flowers with lush green leaves

As landscapes begin looking a bit gloomy and you start thinking about plant delivery for the holidays, cheerful camellia flowers burst onto the scene. Their delicate layers of petals are easy to love, especially since they bloom after the majority of flowers have died.

Not only are camellias beautiful, but they also have rich meaning and symbolism. If you’re looking to show someone your undying love or let a friend know you care, camellias could be a great choice. Read on to learn more about the meaning behind these flowers as well as some camellia fun facts.

Camellia Basics

The name camellia refers to one of the hundreds of species of flowering shrubs and small trees. While all of these plants bloom in cold weather, some produce flowers in the middle of winter and others wait until early spring. Camellia flowers often resemble roses or peonies, come in shades of pink, red, and white.

They’re native to areas in East and South Asia, including China, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, and India. Most camellias can tolerate temperatures below freezing, but cold hardiness varies between species. If you live in a frigid area, look for varieties that can survive temperatures down to 0ºF.

The Origin of the Camellia Name

Like many plants, the Camellia genus was named by the famed taxonomer Carl Linneaus. When it came time to name this genus, Linnaeus looked to the work of Georg Joseph Kamel. Kamel was a pharmacist and botanist who spent many years describing the plants of the Philippines.

While many species of camellias are native to China and Japan, a few species are native to the Philippines. It’s believed that Linneaus named the plants after Kamel based on Kamel’s description of these Filipino camellias.

Camellia Meaning and Symbolism

Each camellia flower’s symbolism is impacted by geography as well as cultural traditions.


In China, the camellia flower is a symbol of unyielding love. Once you learn a bit about this plant’s biology, it’s easy to see why.

Most flowers contain both petals and sepals (leaflike segments that protect the flower bud and then support the bloom). When flowers die, the petals typically fall off while the sepals remain. However, camellias are a bit different. When these flowers die, the petals and sepals fall off at the same time.

So what’s this have to do with love? People believe that the sepals represent a man and the petals represent a woman. The following petals and sepals represent two partners entering the next phase of life together.


Much like in China, the camellia (aka tsubaki) is often a symbol of strong love. However, these flowers also hold other symbolism.

Traditionally, camellias were tied to samurais. These military warriors looked upon the winter-blooming camellias as symbols of bravery and strength against all odds.

Samurais also took meaning from the sudden way these flowers die. As other flowers slowly lose one petal then another, camellia flowers quickly and fully fall from the plant. Samurais hoped the camellia’s quick death would mirror how they killed their opponents.

Since samurais had special relationships with camellias, Japanese people often used these flowers to honor fallen samurais.

United States

Camellia symbolism in the US is much similar to the symbolism in China and Japan.

Camellia flowers are often seen as a symbol of love, adoration, and longing. Don’t hesitate to give them to people you love, no matter if your affection is romantic or platonic.

Since these many types of camellias bloom in the winter when conditions are often inhospitable, people sometimes link these flowers to overcoming adversity.

Camellia Flower Symbolism

The color of a camellia flower also impacts its symbolism. If you’re looking to convey a certain message, check out the meaning behind each color.

White Camellias

Like many white flowers, white camellias symbolize purity and innocence. Therefore, they’re often used in weddings. In Japan, white camellias are often tied to death, so they’re popular funeral flowers.

However, white camellias can also symbolize admiration and respect. That means they’re great gifts for teachers, parents, and anyone else you look up to.

Pink Camellias

If you’re in a long distance relationship, keep the pink camellia in mind. These flowers symbolize longing, so they’re the perfect way to let someone know you’re missing them.

Red Camellias

Deep red camellias can symbolize passion, love, romance, and desire. If you want to let someone know you’re attracted to them, give them a red camellia.

Yellow Camellias

Yellow camellias aren’t very common, but they do exist. Like other yellow flowers, they’re often used as a symbol of friendship. However, since they’re uncommon, they can also symbolize uniqueness.

Camellias in To Kill a Mockingbird

Perhaps the most famous camellia occurs in the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird. In case you haven’t read this book, we’ll let you have a little taste.

A girl named Scout, her brother Jem, and their father Atticus live in an Alabama town. A hateful, elderly lady named Mrs. Dubose also lives in the same town. Much to the dismay of Mrs. Dubose and other residents, lawyer Atticus agrees to defend a falsely-accused black man named Tom Robinson.

After Jem hears Mrs. Dubose bad-mouthing his father, Jem removes her camellia flower buds as an act of retaliation. Upon learning about what Jem has done, his father instructs him to spend time reading to Mrs. Dubose. Unbeknownst to Jem, she is addicted to morphine.

With Jem’s help, she quits her addiction before her death. She also leaves him a box filled with a white camellia, symbolizing an appreciation for his patience.

Fun Facts About Camellias

If you need some more reasons to fall in love with camellias, check out these fun facts.

Time for Tea

One species of camellia, Camellia sinensis, is used to produce black, white, and green tea. Growers carefully tend to plants and then harvest the leaves once they’re at the correct stage. From this point, processing determines the end product.

State Flower of Alabama

While the camellia isn’t native to the United States, it’s the current Alabama state flower.

Deer Won’t Bother Them

If you’re looking for a deer-resistant shrub, consider camellias. While deer will chow down on lots of garden greenery, they tend to leave camellias alone.

A High Fashion Flower

French fashion designer Coco Chanel was known for wearing camellia flowers. Not only are these flowers beautiful, but their fragrance-free flowers didn’t clash with her favorite perfume. Today, you can find camellias on Chanel bags, clothing, and jewelry.

Petals Galore

When it comes time to categorize camellia flowers, you can look at the color as well as the shape. Gardeners often describe camellias using one of these six terms.

  • Single camellias have a maximum of eight petals that are arranged in a single layer.
  • Semi-double camellias have 9 to 21 petals arranged in two or three layers.
  • Anemone form camellias have large outer petals and a cluster of short inner petals that blend in with the stamens.
  • Peony form camellias have rounded flowers composed of many irregularly-shaped petals.
  • Rose form camellias have cup-shaped flowers composed of several layers of neat petals.
  • Formal double camellias have several rows of neatly arranged, overlapping petals.

Types of Camellias

If you thought it was difficult to decide between the various types of Christmas trees, wait until you hear how many types of camellias exist. As we mentioned before, there are hundreds of different camellia species. And within each species there can be tens or hundreds of cultivars! With so many options, it can be difficult to choose the right camellia for your garden. To get you started, take a look at these popular types of camellias.

Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica)

The Japanese camellia is one of the most popular species, with large flowers that bloom in the early spring. As these plants have become popular, plant breeders have developed thousands of different cultivars.

Here are some of the most popular cultivars:

  • ‘Anacostia’ has deep pink semi-double blooms with small yellow stamens.
  • ‘Debutante’ belongs at the pageant with light pink flowers that resemble peonies.
  • ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ has large red flowers that look like ruffled peonies.
  • ‘Pearl Maxwell’ delights with its elegant pink formal double blooms.
  • ‘Spring’s Promise’ is an extremely cold-hardy cultivar with simple red flowers.

Sasanqua Camellia (Camellia sasanqua)

This type of camellia is a large shrub that blooms from early fall to early winter. These plants often begin to flower just as you’re decorating with lights and holiday wreaths. Compared to Japanese camellias, these plants have more flowers, although the individual blooms are a bit smaller.

Order Fresh Flowers

Winter-blooming camellias remind us how flowers can light up even the darkest of days. If you’re looking to send a friend some cheer or wish your mom a happy birthday, a bouquet will do the trick. Fortunately, The Bouqs Co. makes it easy to send flowers to everyone you love (including yourself)! If you want to read more about fun symbolism in holiday flowers check out our posts on amaryllis meaning and symbolism and poinsettia meaning and symbolism.

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