Culture

Photo Essay: Camellias Are Blooming in the Bay Area

Camellia trees are beautiful, and a staple of landscaping in the Bay Area. Some of my favorite camellias are at the Gardens at Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek. They have an entire hillside covered in the trees. I’m also lucky to have a giant camellia tree that’s likely 20+ years old right in my own backyard here in the East Bay.

Camellia flower. Credit Thomas Smith.

One of the coolest things about camellias is the fact that they bloom in the Winter. Most of the other flowing trees around the Bay Area bloom in the Spring or Summer, despite our relatively mild year-round climate. When all those trees are basically dormant and stick-like, camellias are flowering and beautiful.

Spotting Camellias

They’re also varied in appearance and even their smell. Just as people love to breed different roses, they also breed unique varieties of camellias. There are hundreds of types, some with unique and interesting names. They have a wide variety of flower types and colors. There are white, yellow, pink, and red flowers, and everything in between.

Close-up of pink Camellia (Camellia sasanqua) flower, San Ramon, California, January 31, 2018. Credit Thomas Smith.

Okay, so perhaps camellias aren’t as well-known as the other quintessential California winter flower, the poinsettia. Those have featured prominently around the state for decades, perhaps even a century. Still, camellia flowers are beautiful, and a strong symbol of the remarkable aspects of living in a place where you can often wander around outside in shorts and short sleeves in the middle of January or February.

Camellia flower. Credit Thomas Smith.

The next time you’re out on a walk–or choosing a nice flowering plant for your garden–look for camellias. You’d be surprised how often you can find them around the Bay Area, and in how many varied microclimates. Enjoy them, savor our temperate climate, and celebrate the beauty of these winter-blooming flowers.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times.

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