Camellia Varieties: Camellia Sasanqua vs Japonica

Although these two species of camellias are fairly similar, there are a few major features that differentiate one from the other.

There’s no doubt that camellias help to brighten up our winter gardens.

In Victoria, where I currently live, I have two beautiful camellias and when everything is looking fairly bleak, the camellias spring into bloom.

Not only is it lovely to see these gorgeous flowers, but the wattle birds love them too for their nectar. 

Camellia varieties in Australia

Camellia Japonica plant | Plant varieties
Camellia japonica / Photo by Eleusius / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

In Australia, we commonly grow two different species of camellias – Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua.

Both these species have the most glorious flowers that help to brighten up our winter gardens. 

Camellias are actually very easy to grow and don’t demand too much attention. However, they do enjoy growing in loamy soil that is slightly acidic.

When they’re young, they will appreciate supplemental watering but when fully established, they’re fairly drought tolerant.

Within the two main species of ornamental camellias, you’ll find a huge selection of hybrids and cultivars. This means that there’s a camellia to suit almost every garden here in Australia.

What is the difference between Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua?

Although these two species of camellias are fairly similar, they have a few major features that differentiate each species from the other.

Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica | Plant varieties
Camellia japonica / Photo by PumpkinSky / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Camellia japonica loves a cooler climate and is quite happy growing in partly shaded areas. It especially prefers morning shade so the sun doesn’t burn the delicate flower petals while they’re still wet with dew.

This species also has large, glossy green leaves and is perfectly suited to growing as a specimen plant as it has a lovely rounded growth habit. 

Their flowers come in a variety of different colours and forms with some looking very much like peony flowers while others have a stunning symmetrical form.

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua | Plant varieties
Camellia sasanqua / Photo by そらみみ / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

This camellia species will happily live in a full sun position and can also tolerate higher humidity. If you live in a northern region of Australia, you should consider growing a cultivar from this species.

Camellia sasanqua is also faster growing than C. japonica. Plus, the leaves are much smaller but still glossy and dark green. That means that this species is ideal for growing as a hedge or a screening plant because you can trim it with hedge clippers or shears.

If you grow this species in the southern parts of the country, you’ll need to provide some protection from frost while the plant is still young.

Camellia sasanqua is also the first to bloom among the two different species and you can expect to see the first flowers in late autumn, especially if you live in a warmer region.

The flowers of this species can be either single and cup-shaped or they can have a more loose form with numerous petals.

Do camellias like sun or shade?

This depends entirely on the species or cultivar that you plan to grow. While C. sasanqua varieties are quite happy growing in full sun, C. japonicas do prefer a more shaded position.

When choosing the ideal location for your camellia or the right camellia for a certain spot in your garden, it’s important to remember that C. japonica should be given a little protection from the morning sun.

This is because the flowers will still be damp with dew and if the sun then hits them, they could suffer sunburn.


What is the easiest camellia to grow?

Both camellia species are easy to grow but you’ll find that Camellia sasanqua is just a little hardier and grows faster. Consider C. sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ with its huge single red blooms that have delightful golden centres.

Which is the best camellia for full shade?

For a fully shaded position, you’ll want to select a camellia from C. japonica species as these are happier growing in the shade. 

What is the most popular camellia?

The most popular camellias grown in Australian gardens are those from the C. japonica species. This is due to their rounded growth form and their tolerance for shade.

Which camellia grows fastest?

Camellia sasanqua varieties grow faster than C. japonica cultivars.

When do camellias flower in Australia?

Most camellias flower throughout winter in Australia. However, if you live in the northern parts of the country, you can expect to see the first blooms in late autumn. Many cultivars will also bloom right through the colder months and well into spring.

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Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.


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