Alabama officials adopted the Camellia japonica as the state flower in 1959 to replace the goldenrod as a state symbol. The switch came after gardeners in the state petitioned lawmakers to change Alabama’s state flower, because goldenrod is considered a weed. School children suggested goldenrod as the state flower in 1927 because it grew wild throughout the region. Legislators also adopted oak-leaf hydrangea as the state wildflower at the same time the camellia was designated Alabama’s state flower.
Lawmakers again addressed Alabama’s state flower in 1999 when they selected Camellia japonica to differentiate the symbol from more than 3,000 varieties of the plant. This species is native to Asia but grows well in the southern United States. Camellias in red, pink, and white represent common landscaping choices that add color to yards and public areas.
These plants are valued as Alabama’s state flower because they begin blooming in late winter and early spring before other plants blossom. A dark red variety typically blooms first, with profuse numbers of flowers on each plant. The species is considered hardy, but flowers should be protected from frost during winter months. Mulch should be placed at the base of the shrub to protect roots from cold.
Camellias were named to honor the German botanist George Kamel. This botanist became famous for his published work on Oriental plants in the 1700s. As a Jesuit missionary, Kamel traveled to the Philippines, but historians believe he never studied the camellia in Japan or China, where the plant was first discovered.
Alabama’s state flower produces blooms up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) wide. Each blossom contains a yellow center and appears similar to a rose with overlapping petals. Shiny, dark green leaves make this a decorative plant all year long. Camellias grow slowly but can reach 20 feet (6.1 m) when mature.
Camellias prefer moist, acidic soil, but will adapt to less favorable soil conditions. They thrive in partial shade and make attractive flowering plants under large trees with filtered sunlight. In colder regions, more sun is required for camellias to bloom. Too much sun or harsh wind causes the petals to turn brown.
Alabama’s state flower can be propagated through cuttings started in a rooting compound. Plants should be pruned after all the blooms fade in the spring. These plants provide attractive borders around yards when planted as hedges. Alabama residents enjoy these flowers near patios, porches, and other outdoor living areas.
In Korea, camellias represent a favorite wedding flower because they symbolize faithfulness and a long life. The red variety symbolizes worthiness in some Asian cultures. White camellias are linked with loveliness.