Camellias – growing camellias from seed

Much has been said recently about the benefit of collecting seed from your favourite camellia and growing it. Care for it for a few years – and the catch here is that this could take a fair few years – and see how it flowers. Chances are that it will flower the same as the seed parent plant – but there is also a chance that the bees have done a fantastic job of cross pollination and you will end up with a distinctly different flower – and here you have a new cultivar.

This is how a number of the cultivars that we grow and love today have come into existence, and this is the way we will get new ones in the future.

Hybridisers will do deliberate cross pollination using a particular seed parent and using the pollen from a specifically different pollen parent with the objective of the resulting new flower having the best attributes of both parents. And – bazzinga – a new and highly desirable camellia.

BUT, the observation I want to make today is about seed raising a couple of species – camellia Crapnelliana and camellia Trichocarpa.

Crapnelliana is a small tree to about 8 metres with a large single white flower with a big boss of yellow stamens – and has the largest of all the camellia seeds.

Crapnelliana seeds

We use the seeds to grow new plants as cuttings are rarely successful. The seeds fall to the ground at this time of the year – Autumn – we collect the fresh seeds which split open and collect the individual seeds from inside the thick pithy outer covering. We crack the hard covering of the seed, place in a pots ( we will put 20 or more into a community pot), cover with a shallow covering of potting mix, damp down, place in a shaded spot, keep moist, and wait a few weeks for the shoots to appear. We then prick out the new seedlings, snip the tip off the root pedicle (to promote lateral root growth), pot up, and watch them grow.

If we leave the seeds on the ground, the outer pithy husk dries up and the seeds go back into the soil as mulch.

In July last year, we visited camellia collector and hybridiser, Bob Cherry, and he graciously showed us around his garden full of camellias (and magnolias, wisterias, poppies, polyanthus and lots more) – in the hinterland just west of Sydney. The weather was cold – colder than what we left on the Sunshine Coast. There are many hundreds of camellias in his garden, certainly one of the most extensive collections of camellias in Australia. But the one I single out here is the species Trichocarpa.

Trichocarpa at Bob’s place

The seed of Trichocarpa is a large pod, somewhat smaller than that of Crapnelliana but a good tennis ball size. We collected seed with the intention of growing them on on our return to Palmwoods. Where these seeds had fallen, the ground was moist, the pithy husks were wet and crumbly (almost like peat) and the seeds sat in this environment, leaves falling onto them and partially covering them. We collected a bunch complete with the pithy outer husks and debris, whacked them into a bag and we are pleased to say that we have a few seedlings growing. I am very hopeful that these will survive, because I love this flower and the tree.

In my subsequent musings, I had a thought – these seeds were sitting in natures own seed raising mix. I thought that these seeds were being kept moist and the pithy husk provided a perfect medium for the new roots to grow into. These seeds would shoot their root into the husk, the new leaf shoot would pop up into the sunlight, and the root would continue down into the soil – and hey presto, a new tree in the little forest of Trichocarpa.

SO why is it, that back in Palmwoods, our Crapnelliana seeds fall to the ground, split – all good so far – then dry up and go hard and become mulch? Simple – we have hot wet summers and cool/cold and dry winters. When the seeds fall to the ground, the weather is dry – the seeds dry out and that is the end of the seed. It becomes just a small amount of mulch.

I happened to be in the garden yesterday – surprise – and I saw, under one of our Crapnelliana trees, a number of old seeds. Closer inspection revealed that one of these seeds had fallen into a spot where it had kept moist and a seed had in fact put a root down into the husk and a leaf shoot had grown to about 8cm. It had then dried out and died, and before I realised, the shoot broke off in my fingers. The husk that the root had gone into was moist and fibrousy and could be easily broken up with my fingers. You could still see the roots where they had grown into the husk.

Moist Crapnelliana seed - 1 year old

Crapnelliana seeds pods and old flower

I was pleased. Mother nature is a wondrous thing.

The fact is that we are growing plants in weather that is probably different to that in their native environments and we need to make allowances for that. We need to replicate as well as we can the conditions the plants need and in most cases, with our camellias, we can grow them very successfully.

Our weather is very different to that in Sydney/Melbourne with our hot wet summers and cool/cold dry winters, where southern states (in Australia that is) are ofter wetter in winter. This will mean that our flowers can dry out more quickly, so we must remember to keep a little bit of moisture to them – but not too much.

Gardening is so much fun.

9 Responses to “Camellias – growing camellias from seed”

  1. Hi there

    After 15 years, my camellia sesanqua (Jenny) are all sprouting seedlings. I have about 15 plants in a hedge and Dozens of seedlings have spouted under them. Hoping you can give me some advice. I’m thrilled. They can be moved to fill in some gaps. But are the now a problem? Do I pull them out?


  2. Hi, sasanquas will drop seed readily and many will grow if the conditions are right. You can pull the new seedlings – the tap root will grow quite deep – and pot them up for a bit and then you can plant them out elsewhere once they re-establish. Otherwise, you can just leave them in place and this will make your hedge more dense.
    Getting them out once the seedling is established is a bit of a task and the little plants have a lot more going on below the surface that above when young.

  3. Rob Morgan

    Is there any chance of getting some of the seeds. I am an avid propagator of sasanquas from seed having some 50 or so from the last couple of years. Just this week I harvested almost 100 pods from a well established tree and am in the process of germinating the seeds as they split from the pod. I live in Brisbane and would love to have a go at either the Crapnelliana or Trichocarpa.


  4. Crapnelliana is relatively easy to prop from seed – fresh seed. As you are probably aware, crapnelliana will grow to a small tree to about 5 metres – give it some room.
    Trichocarpa is difficult to source – I know of only location. I have failed with all attempts to grow this one from seed, and cuttings.
    We are happy to give you crapnelliana seed if you visit. Seeds will not be ready for a couple of weeks by the look of them.

  5. Kevin Bowden

    Over the 16 years as a volunteer in the Stangate Camellia Garden (Adelaide Hills, SA) I have observed many thousands of seed fall to the ground, yet relatively few germinate. In March 2017 Camellia seeds taken from pods on the tree were put into a jar of water. Less than 10% sank immediately and after 12 hours 25% still floated (all but one of the odd were empty). In April 2017 I collected unopened mature seed pods from a variety of Camellias and conducted the same test. All seeds sank immediately, indicating that our dry summer/spring is not conducive to viable seeds. I am in the process of testing the germination rate with the first seed germinating on April 23.

  6. Hi Kev…..I would have thought that if the seeds sink, then this indicates density in the seed and a reasonable possibility that the seed is viable.
    Taking fresh seed straight from the plant means that it is fresh and this is the best chance for the seed to be viable..that is, the seeds have not had a chance to dry out. The process we use is to pick/collect seed, take off the green to light brown outer husk and directly plant the inner seed. If we want to check the soundness of the seed, we will wait a couple of days for the seed to dry a bit, then using a small wooden mallet – we use a bit of old garden stake – strike the shell just sufficiently to crack the outer dark brown shell – you can often then see the intact seed kernel side. Then plant out knowing that it is a viable seed. You can chip off a small bit of seed casing with your fingernail. You have to take care here as hitting the seed shell too hard will damage the kernel inside. The cracking the shell also lets moisture in possibly advancing the germination process.
    We don’t really bother with the water test although it is a fair indicator for older seed. If it floats, chuck it out. It also depends on how precious the seed is.
    It is a time consuming process but it can be rewarding.

  7. I have trichocarpa as a 4 plus metre high tree in Taranaki NZ (west coast North Island on a volcanic ring plain). It’s bark is a beautiful tan and its flowers are highly attractive though very fragile. I have found two seedlings beneath it in the fifteen years I have grown it. It dislikes excessive sunshine which seems to reduce leaf size and cause a level of defoliation.
    I have never seen a seed capsule until this year when I found one which had fallen in early May. I opened it and retrieved five seeds, one of which was germinating in situ, that is, while still on the tree.
    I appreciated the discussion on this site and thought I’d add my little bit.

  8. You are fortunate in having your trichocarpa growing well. Others I have seen here in Australia (at Bob Cherry’s outside Sydney and one in Hobart) were in good high shade – moist environment and dim light. We find that crapnelliana, although a fair sized tree at 5m, still prefers good shade.
    Trichocarpa, as you say, is a very attractive tree with the tan bark and big white flowers. Bob’s trees (and there was a mini forest of them which I would suggest self seeded and grew insitu) seeded prolifically judging by what we were able to pick up.

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