Camellia azalea is restricted to a small mountainous area in Guangdong Province, China. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing up to 4 metres tall with long and narrow, dark-green leaves. It has bright red flowers and the petals are slightly notched at the tip. There are some superficial floral and foliar similarities to certain azaleas.
The species has an unusually long flowering period, from mid-May until February, this, along with its large flowers and evergreen foliage, make it of high horticultural interest. Although not yet commonly grown, Camellia azalea is a potentially valuable economic species with breeders interested in using the species to generate hybrids that bloom continuously. Native to a warm, moist environment preliminary tests have shown it can survive at -5°C, and could be a useful ornamental shrub for landscapes and gardens.
The wild population of this endemic species appears to be in decline, there are around 1000 mature individuals, with no seedlings and few young plants evident, and although the species flowers abundantly it has a low rate of fruit or seed production. It has been categorized as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
One of the threats to this species is from illegal collection as demand is high due to its horticultural value while supply is small. Propagation techniques have been developed in private nurseries and through this 10,000 grafted plants have been purchased by the local nature reserve and distributed among local people in an attempt to reduce illegal collection.
Camellia azalea is currently being grown in the living collections of six botanic gardens.
Photo Credits: ©Ton Hannink
Did you know?
One species of rhododendron (R. kanehirae) would be extinct if were not for collections made by botanic gardens.