Camellia sasanqua is a Camellia plant that you can find flowering during Advent. There is even an appropriately-named cultivar called ‘Yuletide Red’. It also comes in shades of white, pink or a two-toned combination. Its flowers announce the future springtime displays to look forward to.
The Camellia belongs to the Theaceae or Tea family. Camellia sinensis is an economically important plant for tea production. Camellia japonica is well-known for its springtime flowers. Camellia sasanqua was prized for the tea oil expressed from its seeds. Lacquer workers used it to remove varnish traces from their hands and arms at the end of a working day. One of the oil’s constituents, sasanqua, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Its hard wood was also used for the handles of agricultural tools and charcoal.
Popular in Japan
Sasanqua Camellia or Christmas Camellia has been cultivated in Japan since the 1330s. It is called Sazanka, which means tea-plum blossoms. It is considered the quintessential winter flower in Japan. It forms a popular hedging plant. Look at the ground if you want to tell a Sazanka from a Camellia. Sazanka petals fall individually, whereas the complete flowerhead falls with Camellias. The Japanese treat Sazanka as a separate genus.
The Sasanqua Camellia is considered the quintessential winter flower in Japan. Its beautiful flowers are symbols for the sad and vulnerable in Japanese poetry. They also appear in a famous Japanese children’s song about a winter bonfire:
Rough translation of the lyrics:
1) At the corner of a hedge-lined path there is a bon-fire going, burning fallen leaves.
Shall we warm our hands by it? Sure, let’s! A northern wind is blowing pii puu!
2) A path abloom with sazanka ! There is a bon-fire burning fallen leaves.
Shall we warm our hands by it? Sure, let’s! Our little hands are itchy from the frost!
3) A winter wind whips through the cold path, there’s a bon-fire, burning fallen leaves.
Shall we warm our hands by it? Sure, let’s ! Thinking about what to do as we walk along!
References and Further Reading
- Gardenia.net (2020): Camellia sasanqua.
- Kew Science (2020): Camellia sasanqua Thunb. Plants of the World Online.
- Landau, Avi (): In Early through Mid-Winter it’s Sazanka 山茶花 (camellia sasanqua), not Tsubaki 椿 (Camellia). TsukuBlog. 27 November 2020.
- Schmidt, Richard J. (1994-2020): Camellia sasanqua Thunb. BoDD.
- Tree (2018): Sazanka Tree 山茶花 (Camellia sasanqua) YouTube Video. 9 December 2018
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