Camellia nitidissima grows in a small area of forest in southern Guangxi in China. It is a shrub or small tree growing up to 5 metres tall. There is some taxonomic confusion between Camellia nitidissima and Camellia chrysantha with some taxonomists splitting the two species and some putting the latter as a synonym of the former.
Camellia nitidissima is a famous garden plant worldwide due to the big size, golden colour and transparent waxy appearance of its flowers. Despite being first described in 1948, it wasn’t until the 1960s when this species was re-discovered in Yongning County that it became widely available to western gardeners and horticulturalists. Although many more species of yellow flowered Camellias have since been described from China and more recently Vietnam, C. nitidissima still remains the main species on the international horticultural market.
Camellia nitidissima is also widely used to make tea with health teas and beverages being successfully developed and sold in Southeast Asian countries. Since 2010, companies in Guangxi have been promoting yellow Camellia flowers as a medicinal product with a kilogram of dried wild yellow Camellia flowers priced at more than 10,000 yuan ($1,607). It is stated that only cultivated plants are harvested for the raw materials however wild camellias are known to be targeted for their flowers when in bloom.
Habitat loss and human collection of seedlings are the main threats to Camellia nitidissima and even when under protected status in protected areas this species is at risk. Illegal collections of flowers and seedlings have been reported in Nonggang National Nature Reserve and is threatened by habitat loss, extraction of natural resources and fragmentation of the habitat within Fangcheng Golden Camellia National Nature Reserve.
In response to these threats, the Global Trees Campaign have been working with the Guangxi Institute of Botany to restore 5 hectares of habitat using native woody species, including Camellia nitidissima. So far saplings have been planted in two sites and a three hectare demonstration plot has been established to trial population reinforcement programmes. This demonstration base is expected to be expanded to cover 10 hectares and 250 local households will be engaged in Camellia planting activities.
Photo Credit: Joachim Gratzfeld, BGCI
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