CamelliaThe camellia is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae, native to eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalayas east to Japan and Indonesia. There are over 250 species in the genus, with some controversy over the exact number. The type species for the genus is Camellia sinensis, grown for its tea leaves. Other species, such as Camellia oleifera and Camellia japonica, are cultivated as ornamental plants. The genus Camellia is sometimes subdivided into two subgenera, the subgenus Thea having spring-flowering species with ctoroidal flowers (that is, with petals in two whorls), and subgenus Camellia having autumn-flowering species with campanulate flowers (that is, with petals in one whorl).
The leaves of Camellia plants are usually dark green, glossy, and elliptical. The flowers vary from white to pink and red, and mostly bloom in the winter or spring. The fruit is a dry capsule, sometimes subdivided into two or three compartments, each containing numerous seeds. The genus Camellia is named after the Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel (1661–1706). Linnaeus chose his name in 1735 for the genus to honour Kamel's work on camellias and other flowering plants of the Philippines.
The taxonomy of the genus Camellia has been complex, with many unresolved issues. In 1735, Carl Linnaeus chose six species from China to be the type specimens for the genus Camellia. Since then, more than 3,000 species names have been proposed for camellias, although only about 250 are currently recognized as belonging to the genus. The genus Camellia has been divided into two subgenera, Thea and Camellia. Most of the large species belong to subgenus Thea, while small-flowered (or tea) camellias belong to subgenus Camellia. In 1792, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published the first comprehensive classification of the genus Camellia, dividing it into seven sections, which he further divided into numerous subsections and series.
Camellia species are used as food plants by the larvae of a number of moths; see List of Lepidoptera that feed on Camellia. Leaves of the Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) are considered traditional greens in Japanese cuisine.