In the language of flowers, the red camellia symbolizes the flame of true love. The graceful petals of C. 'Crimson Candles' could easily "ignite" a dark woodland forest.
“You’re a flame in my heart.”
Or so the Victorians mused, when imagining the secret meaning of the red camellia. In the language of flowers, the pale pink camellia symbolized “longing,” while the white camellia stood for “adoration, perfection, loveliness”.
But the red camellia captures true love. The way it flickers brightly in the heart, even when loveliness fades and perfection is clearly out of reach.
In China, where camellias have grown wild for centuries, the flower is said to symbolize the love of a man and a woman: The petals represent the feminine, while the calyx, which holds the petals at the base, is the masculine. When the flower fades, they fall together, joined even in death.
La Dame aux Camelias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, was the inspiration for Verdi’s opera La Traviata. The original tale was inspired by Dumas’ affair with the beautiful Marie Duplessis, a camellia-wearing courtesan who, for a time, was the toast of Paris. She died young, at age 23, of tuberculosis, aggravated, thought her doctors, by the bouquets that surrounded her.
The luminous Greta Garbo played the title role in George Cukor's 1936 film adaptation, Camille.
On cheerier note, the leaves of the camellia have given us one of the world’s most delicious (and addictive) beverages: tea...
In China C. sinensis is known as chahua—the "tea flower." Dried tea leaves contain about three percent caffeine by weight; processed to achieve different levels of oxidation, they produce all the familiar varieties of tea, from black and aged puerh to oolong, green and white. Green tea is thought to be packed with catchecins, a form of antioxidant.
The camellia you see here is an ornamental cultivar, C. reticulata x ‘Crimson Candles,’ developed by the late Dr. Clifford Parks. One winter day we visited his nursery garden, where scores of magnificent camellias, some more than 20 feet tall, were planted in a woodland of towering pines. We wandered through a dreamlike forest of exquisite blooms: crimson, pink and white, some splotched or streaked, singles and doubles, all with graceful petals as smooth as silk or ruffled like crinolines.
A few days ago B came home bearing this beauty, completely covered with blazing crimson blossoms. Its fat, furry buds are elongated, perhaps with yearning; soon they too will ignite, like a flame in the heart.
Did he know what he was saying? I wonder…
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!