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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007
By LINDA INOKI
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.