Camellia Blossoms and Leaves from the Varina and Jefferson Davis Memorial

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Camellia Specimens (Camellia sp. cultivar, double flower). Stem and leaves, some fragmentary. Dark red in color. From the memorial to Jefferson C. and Varina Davis. Vicksburg, Mississippi. No date.

Undated flora sample from the camellia plant. From an outdoor bush, approximately 4 feet in height at the memorial to Jefferson C. and Varina Davis. The Old Courthouse Museum, Eva W. Davis Memorial, Vicksburg, Mississippi. Formerly incorrectly classified as a "rose". Camellia type: unknown.

Leaf from the Southern, or Loblolly, Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). Fragmentary. Immature specimen.

Gift of the Hospitality Committee of the Historic Heritage Society of the Rio Blanco Social Club

fl.1861.59.da. Formerly old main catalog entry #7.

Camellia Overview

Camellia is a bush of medium height with luxuriant, glossy, dark green leaves that add evergreen interest to any garden. Beloved by gardeners in the Southern United States for years, the camellia blossom is large and showy, and historically richly scented. A Winter bloomer, blooms occur from October to March, but are damaged by frost below -10 ºC.

Camellia 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, or Camellus. (b. 21 April 1661, Brno, Moravia, now Czech Republic – d. 2 May 1706, Manila, Philippines.) Kamel joined the Jesuit order and was assigned to the Philippine missions in 1688. There as Jesuit infirmarian and pharmacist he took up botany and became the first plant specialist of the Philippine Islands. He discovered the medicinal properties of what he named St. Ignatius Bean (Strychnos ignatii) to honor the founder of his order. The St. Ignatius Bean is known today as a source of strychnine.

Even more familiar is the species of Camellia, C. sinensis, or tea (whether black or green). Camellia sinensis has replaced all earlier botanical names. Another Jesuit, Fr. Jasper de Cruz (b. Portugal), was the first European to experience tea and to introduce it to his fellow westerners in 1560. Most of the varied species of Camellia were brought to Europe in an attempt to break the Portuguese monopoly on tea, and were meant to be used as leaves for this beverage. Their ornamental use came to be valued later.

Magnolia Overview

"Alternate, simple leaves, each four to eight inches (10-20 cm) long, oval-oblong tapering at both ends. Stiff, leathery, shiny-green above and rusty-tomentose beneath" (Odenwald and Turner, 1996)