Dr. Salim Ali Chawk
Mumbai - 400 001.
Camellia, the camellias, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae. They are native to eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalaya east to Japan and Indonesia. There are 100-250 described species, with some controversy over the exact number. The genus was named by Linnaeus after the Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel from Brno, who worked on the Philippines. This genus is famous throughout East Asia; camellias are known as cháhuā (茶花) in Chinese, and as tsubaki (椿) in Japanese.
The most famous member - though often not recognized as a camellia - is certainly the tea plant (C. sinensis). Among the ornamental species, the Japanese Camellia (C. japonica) is perhaps the most widely-known, though most camellias grown for their flowers are cultivars or hybrids.
They are evergreen shrubs and small trees 2-20 m tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, thick, serrated, usually glossy, and 3-17 cm long. The flowers are large and conspicuous, 1-12 cm diameter, with (in natural conditions) 5-9 petals; colour varies from white to pink and red, and yellow in a few species. The fruit is a dry capsule, sometimes subdivided into up to 5 compartments, each compartment containing up to 8 seeds.
The genus is generally adapted to acidic soils, and most species do not grow well on chalky or other calcium-rich soils. Most species also have a high rainfall requirement and will not tolerate drought, but some of the more unusual camellias - typically species from karst in Vietnam - can grow without much rainfall.
Camellias have a slow growth rate. Typically they will grow about 30 centimetres a year until mature although this varies depending on variety and location.
Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, is of major commercial importance because tea is made from its leaves. While the finest teas are produced by C. sinensis courtesy of millennia of selective breeding of this species, many other camellias can be used to produce a similar beverage. For example, in some parts of Japan, tea made from Christmas Camellia (C. sasanqua) leaves is popular.
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