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Camellias are beautiful blossoms with a rich history and cultural significance. In fact, it is a well-respected flower in Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and China. The reason is due to its beauty and range of variety, but also because of the symbolism of the flower. But what does camellia symbolize? To answer this question, we need to get to know the flower first.
What Are Camellias?
Named after Georg Joseph Kamel, camellias are beautiful blossoms that belong to the Theaceae family. The flower comes from an evergreen shrub or small tree and has large petals, with little to no scent, making them a great gift for people with allergies.
Initially, camellias were native to China and Japan. In fact, this flower has been part of the Chinese and Japanese culture for thousands of years. In the mid-1700s, these gorgeous blossoms made their way to Europe, and afterward, the flower reached North America before the century ended.
As of today, there are almost 300 species of camellias, and their color includes red, pink, and white. There is also one yellow species, which is found in Vietnam and South China. The most popular varieties of this flower are Japanese camellia or Tsubaki (Camellia japonica), sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua), and yennan camellia (Camellia reticulata).
Stories and Myths about the Camellias
Traditionally in China, the camellia was perceived as a union between two people. To explain further, the calyx part of the flower represents a man, while the petals symbolize a woman. Normally, the petals and the calyx separate when a flower dies. In the case of the camellia, the calyx and petals fall away together. For this reason, this beautiful blossom is believed to signify undying love.
Meaning and Symbolism of Camellias
In Latin, camellia means helper to the priest. Aside from that, this flower has other meanings, which vary depending on the culture.
- Everlasting Love and Devotion – In Western culture, the rose is the symbol of love. Camellia, on the other hand, is the symbol of love in Eastern culture. The reason is due to the inseparable parts of the flower, which represents everlasting love. Additionally, this blossom is also given as a gift to express faithfulness or devotion.
- Longevity and Happiness – In Korea, camellia has been a part of traditional wedding ceremonies since 1200 BC because it symbolizes happiness, longevity, and faithfulness.
- Perfection and Excellence – The camellia is a beautiful blossom with symmetrical accuracy, with an almost unreal look. For this reason, the flower is a symbol of perfection and excellence. Oftentimes, it is given to a person who you think is perfect or successful.
- Death – Camellia has a lot of positive meanings, but it also has a negative connotation. To be specific, giving white camellias is considered bad luck in Japan because it is associated with death and funerals. For this reason, some people place this flower on graves to tell that those who have died will continue to live in their hearts.
As you probably know, a flower can have other interpretations, depending on its color. The following are the meanings of camellia based on its color:
- White – Like most white flowers, white camellias are a symbol of purity. Aside from that, this flower is often seen in weddings because it symbolizes a long and faithful marriage. Additionally, it signifies admiration, perfection, and good luck. However, in Japan, white camellias are thought to bring bad luck because they are associated with death.
- Pink – During the Victorian era, pink camellias were used as a symbol of heartfelt longing. As such, it is the perfect flower for long-distance lovers. It can also be given as a gift if you want to say I miss you so much.
- Red – Generally, red camellias are a symbol of love, passion, and desire. In the Victorian age, this blossom was given to express that the recipient is the flame in your heart. For this reason, it is typically given to someone you truly love and desire.
Uses of Camellias throughout History
Camellias are one of the oldest flowers known to humans, and they have been used in various fields, including the following:
- In Traditional Medicine
The camellia tea was discovered when a Chinese emperor ordered all the water in his land to be boiled to help prevent diseases. One day, the emperor was drinking hot water when some dried camellia leaves dropped into his cup and started to steep. The emperor liked the flavor of the liquid, and from there, camellia tea grew in popularity. The leaves of camellias are used as a herbal remedy for various illnesses, including asthma, heart problems, and bacterial infections.
- In Cooking
In China, camellia seeds are pressed to create oil, which is used in cooking and as a seasoning. Aside from that, the oil is also used to clean, protect, and sharpen knives and other cutting tools.
- In Arts and Literature
The camellia flower was used in Harper Lee’s iconic novel entitled To Kill a Mockingbird. In the story, a young boy destroyed the camellia shrub growing in the garden of an old lady. After finding out his son’s actions, Atticus sends the boy to the old lady’s home to read to her every day. One day, the woman passed away. Before she died, she revealed to the boy that she was struggling with a morphine addiction. She also left a box containing a single white camellia, which symbolizes her understanding and patience.
Aside from that book, this beautiful blossom was also mentioned in the popular novel titled The Lady with Camellias, written by Alexandre Dumas in 1848.
- In Fashion
Fashion house Chanel has used the camellia flower as an iconic symbol. As the story goes, Coco Chanel started wearing a camellia brooch after receiving a bouquet of camellias. From there, the blossom has been incorporated into the design of several Chanel products, including shoes and jewelry.
- In Buddhism
Camellias are significant for Buddhist priests. Aside from using the flower in almost all ceremonies, they also decorate their temples with camellias. The reason is that the blossom sends a message of supremacy, freedom, new beginnings, and the triumph of the spiritual over the material.
The Camellias in Use Today
Today, camellias are often planted in gardens and used as decor for various events, such as weddings and Chinese New Year. Additionally, this gorgeous blossom is the official flower of the state of Alabama. Lastly, most people give this flower as a gift to express love and affection.
When to Give Camellias?
Because camellias have several meanings, they can be given on various occasions, including the following:
- Valentine’s Day – As a symbol of love, desire, and passion, the red camellias can be given to your significant other to express your love and affection. For long-distance lovers, you can also send pink camellias to tell your special someone that you love and miss them.
- Anniversaries – Red camellias are also given during anniversaries because they signify everlasting love and devotion. By giving this flower, you are not only expressing your love, but will also tell him or her that you’ll be forever faithful and devoted to them.
- Funerals – In Japan, white camellias are associated with death, and people place this flower on graves to send a message that the deceased will continue to live in their hearts.
All in all, camellias have positive meanings that can help express your heartfelt emotions. However, it’s best to be aware when giving this flower, especially the white varieties. Remember, white camellias are associated with death, and they are a sign of misfortune in Japan. Having said that, note that these are just guidelines. These gorgeous blossoms will surely brighten a person’s day regardless of the color, not only because of its beauty but because of its meaning as well.