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Camellia reticulata, the city flower of Kunming

Camellia reticulata is a species of Camellia native to southwestern China, in Yunnan Province. The wild populations of it are restricted to mixed mountain forest in western and central Yunnan. As the city flower of Kunming, camellia reticulatas are blooming in many streets of this city, brightly decorating the gardens of citizens. 

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Although Camellia reticulata is popular with people because of its charming appearance, it is not easy to cultivate. To make it much easier for people loving flowers to plant camellia reticulatas, a live streaming called “Let the city flower camellia reticulata bloom all over Kunming”, which is also the first live event of the Spring City Home Gardening Competition in 2020, will be held on April 28. Cailong Club of Kunming Information Hub will stream this event, and Li Su, director of Kunming Garden Research Institute, will attend the stream and teach audiences how to cultivate camellia reticulata at home.  

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History of camellia reticulata

According to the official history, the first mention of “nanzhao rui hua”(camellia reticulata) was made in AD 898. A historic picture scroll named Resurgence of Nanzhao Kingdom, painted by two Nanzhao painters Wang Fengzong and Zhang Shun, depicts two ancient camellia trees in the courtyard of king Xi nuluo, which means that camellia reticulata has been cultivated for at least one thousand years in Yunnan. 

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In Ming Dynasty, a well-known geographer Xu Xiake highly praised camellia reticulata in his masterpiece Xu Xiake's Travels. 

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Plenty of ancient camellia trees in Kunming were planted in the Qing Dynasty, which is closely related to people's love for camellia at that time. Scholar Yuan Jiagu in the late Qing Dynasty, who is also the only champion in the history of Yunnan imperial examination, first promoted camellia reticulata as the province flower of Yunnan. 

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Lasting appeal of camellia reticulata

What’s interesting is that people's understanding of camellia reticulata is largely derived from a popular novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils written by a Chinese martial arts and chivalry novelist Jin Yong. In this novel, Jin Yong mentioned a little known fact that some camellia reticulatas open two seasons, one season for winter and spring, one season for the end of autumn. 

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Camellia reticulata once traveled far over the ocean. It was introduced to Japan in the 7th century and to England in the 17th century. In 1820, Reeves, director of the British East India Company, collected the semi-double of Camellia reticulata and asked captain Richard Rawes to import them to England. They remained the only known reticulata cultivated in Europe for over a century.

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Camellia always withers as a whole, never withers one petal by one petal. This characteristic together with its conspicuous and beautiful appearance always remind people of The Lady of the Camellias written by a French writer Alexandre dumas in the middle 1800s.

Click here to view Chinese report

(Editors: Alison, Rachel)


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