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Camellia sasanqua

Photo: Dr. Robert Polomski

The Winter Rose
Although sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) blooms in early Fall before Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), it doesn’t receive the accolades bestowed on its cousin, which is also known as the “Winter Rose” because of its winter to early spring flowers. Nevertheless, I am very fond of sasanquas which are a somewhat smaller version of the Japanese camellias. Sasanquas have smaller leaves and flowers, but an equal range of flower colors.  Its most endearing attribute is the profusion of flowers that appear between September and December. Sure, the flowers are smaller than Japanese camellia, but their sheer numbers create an eye-catching display of color.

Sasanquas have a more open, rangy form compared to Japanese camellia, and typically grow 6 to 10 ft. high and wide. Sasanqua camellia is also more sun-tolerant than Japanese camellia.

A few of my favorite sasanquas include ‘Setsugekka’, an upright grower with white semi-double flowers having large ruffled petals; 'Kanjiro' with large, semi-double pink flowers; the double-white flowering ‘Mine-no-Yuki’; the single red ‘Yuletide’; and the soft shell pink ‘Pink Snow’ and ‘Jean May’.

While I enjoy the Fall colors of maples, blackgums, dogwoods, and sourwood, they always remind me of the impending arrival of Winter.  Fortunately, sasanqua camellias remind me that the growing season does not end for southern gardeners. Sasanqua flowers are closely followed by Japanese camellia, witchhazel, mahonia, and other winter-blooming gems.