Camellia Flowers and Their Symbolic Meanings

Native to China, camellia flowers have a deep symbolic meaning associated with romantic love and devotion. Interestingly, the meanings associated with the camellia flower are as varied as its colors, ranging from red, pink, and white to variegated patterns. In the Victorian era, camellias were a popular motif in literature and art, symbolizing life’s beauty and brevity. In East Asian cultures, particularly in Japan, the camellia (known as “tsubaki”) is associated with the divine, beauty, and modesty.

A variety of colorful camellia flowers in bloom

Etymology

Georg Joseph Kamel was the botanist first to describe the Camellia as he explored the island of Luzon, where it is native. Carl Linnaeus named the genus after him when developing the modern form of botanical taxonomy still used today. The name honors his discovery, but it also has a lyrical sound that leads many people to use it as a girl’s name.

Color Symbolism

As with many flower varieties, the intrinsic meaning and symbolism in floriography, or the language of flowers, can often vary depending on the colors displayed. Whilst camellia flowers have a long symbolic association with romance and devotion, there are subtle differences to be aware of based on their unique color characteristics.

White Camellia Flowers

White Camellia Flower in bloom

White Camellia blossoms show you have adoration and care for someone but no romantic interest. In floral design, white flowers are often an excellent option to give to a family member or friend you want to express platonic affection for.

Pink Camellia Flowers

Pink Camellia Flowers growing in a garden

The pink blossoms from this plant express longing, so they’re suitable for any situation where you miss someone. Pink flowers, in general, can have a romantic or platonic meaning depending on what they’re paired with.

Red Camellia Flowers

Red Camellia Flowers in bloom

Red Camellia flowers have a passionate and romantic meaning that is hard to miss. Like other types of red flowers, they signify a deep desire for someone, making them great to pair with classic red roses.

Chinese Culture

This plant is native to China, so it’s no surprise it’s considered a sign of romantic love and devotion between a man and a woman. This is because the flower falls off the plant without losing its petals. The base and the petals fall together, representing the commitment between the two lovers. It’s a very romantic flower in Chinese culture, regardless of the color.

Japanese Culture

Tsubaki is the Japanese name for Camellia flowers, and it was a sign of an honorable death for the samurai class in the past. Today’s meanings are similar to those in other cultures, with most people exchanging them as symbols of passionate love and devotion to one another. Red Camellias are preferred for this purpose in Japan as in China, with white having a connotation of mourning and death that would be inappropriate for other occasions.

Camellias and the Shinto Religion

In Japan, the camellia (tsubaki) is often associated with the Shinto religion, where it is seen as a symbol of divine favor and purity. Shinto shrines, known for integrating with nature, sometimes feature camellia plants in their gardens.

The flower’s beauty is considered an offering to kami (spirits or gods) and is appreciated for its natural perfection and the way it harmoniously coexists with its surroundings, reflecting Shinto principles of nature worship and the sacredness of all life.

Buddhism and Camellias

The camellia also carries symbolic meaning in Buddhist teachings. The flower’s ability to bloom in cold winter can be seen as a metaphor for enlightenment—spiritually flourishing despite adverse conditions.

Interestingly, the natural lifecycle of these flowers, which drop whole rather than petal by petal, can symbolize the nature of life and death in Buddhist philosophy, emphasizing the idea of impermanence and the beauty of a dignified end.

What’s more, certain camellia varieties, such as Camellia reticulata, were cultivated in several temples in central Yunnan 400 years ago because the oil from seeds can be used as Buddhist lamp oil.

Brazil and the Camellia Flower

Brazil’s abolitionist movement used the Camellia as a symbol of their fight against slavery during the Imperial Era of the country. The plant was widely planted to signal the struggle to secure freedom for enslaved people.

New Zealand and the Camellia Flower

A metal emblem depicting Camella flowers and the women's suffrage movement in New Zealand

One cultural use of white Camellia flowers, in particular, was to symbolize the women’s suffrage movement in New Zealand. Due to the temperature but warm climate, the plant flourished there and was a perfect symbol of the fight for the vote for women in 1893.

Art and Literature

Hundreds of works of art show or mention these fragrant flowers, but some of the best-known include:

The Official State Flower of Alabama

A postage stampe displaying a red Camellia Flower as the state flower of Alabama

The beautiful Camellia flower is also the official state flower of Alabama. It can grow in most of the state’s climate zones, so it’s widely planted as a landscaping addition for its evergreen leaves as much as its showy blossoms. 

Camellia Flowers and Tattoos

The Camellia is also commonly seen in tattoos symbolizing love, devotion, or innocent purity, depending on the color used for the illustration.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

Due to their connection with romantic love and devotion, Camellia flowers are ideal for gifting on Valentine’s Day, wedding anniversaries, and a spouse’s or partner’s birthday. 

Pink Camellias can be a playful way to indicate a crush or let someone know you miss them, even if no romantic feelings are involved. Since white Camellias are less romantic and more innocent, they’re good gifts for someone grieving or dealing with a breakup. They show you care and want to offer support without sending the wrong message. 

Live camellia shrubs are a neat gift for couples or newlyweds who have just moved in together. They can plant shrubs to symbolize their relationship.

The Camellia flower not only makes for a great gift as part of a bouquet, but it’s also a beautiful addition to the landscape.

Wrapping Up

Camellia flowers hold significant meanings and symbolism. They are often associated with love, affection, and deep devotion, especially the red varieties. Camellias also symbolize perfection and excellence due to their symmetrical beauty. These flowers are exchanged in various cultures as tokens of love and admiration.

Further reading: Discover the most beautiful types of pink camellia flowers.


Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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