The camellia tree in Japanese is called tsubaki, a version of tsuyabaki, which means “shining leaf tree…so-called because of the tree’s glossy, evergreen leaves. The tree is rich in a kind of oil that has been harvested for various uses, one of which is the oiling of the sumo wrestler’s top-knot.

It is used as an ingredient in shampoos that are popular with the Japanese.

tsubaki or sasanqua

QUIZ: Is this the tsubaki or sasanqua?

The answer is in the photo, the flowers of the tsubaki camelia fall whole to the ground while those of the sasanqua fall in scattered petals usually forming a rose-like carpet.

Below is an article by Linda Inoki explaining the unlucky associations of the flower:

Putting in the water, The vase received The camellia
By Onitsura (1660-1738), quoted in “Haiku” by R. H. Blyth (Hokuseido Press).

“Whatever kind of vase you have, there is bound to be a camellia that will suit it. Over the centuries, gardeners have produced a fantastic variety of hybrids, with white, red, pink and bicolor flowers that may be single, double, anemone-form, peony-form, rose-form and so on. Originally, all were wild shrubs or trees from the hills and mountains of China, Korea and Japan, including Camellia japonica, an important ancestor of many beautiful garden shrubs. The glossy, evergreen leaves account for their Japanese name, since tsubaki is a version of tsuyabaki, meaning “shining leaf tree.” In English, they are named after Georg Kamel (1661-1706), a Czech Jesuit priest and naturalist who traveled in China and the Philippines. In the winter of 1739, the first C. japonica flowered in Europe in the garden of an English lord by the name of Petre. However, he kept his precious oriental beauties in a hothouse, where the unnatural conditions quickly killed them off.

Fortunately, the first Japanese camellias sent to America arrived in South Carolina in 1785, where the climate suited them well. Although camellias make good cut flowers, they will suddenly drop their entire head of conjoined petals, which gives them an unlucky association in the land of samurai swords.” — Japan Times


The Camellia Flower

stripey camellias

Beyond the shiny leaves and the samurai superstitions, the plant is very valuable to gardeners because of the beauty of its flowers. There are many forms and some of the double forms look like roses.

They are prized in the garden because they flower either late or very early in the year when not many flowers are in bloom. They also make great hedges being very hardy trees that can be kept very small by hard-pruning.creamy mixed colored camellia


camelia perfect

This is considered by gardeners to be the most perfect form of the camelia flower.

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For more information about the camellia, visit the Camellia Homepage.


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