Formerly known as the "Japanese Rose", camellias originated in Japan and China, arriving in Europe and Australia toward the end of the 18th century. Camellias are a family of over 280 species which include c.sinensis, whose leaves are made into tea, and many species with small or nondescript flowers.

The three species we cultivate today, c.japonica, c.reticulata, and c.sasanqua, feature the showy, formal blooms that captivated the Victorians, who nurtured them in conservatories and featured them in lushly illustrated volumes. By 1920, camellias disappeared from popular culture along with nearly everything else Victorian. Theodore Roosevelt tore down the White House conservatory in 1905 to make way for the West Wing. After World War I, the camellia was rediscovered and many nurseries dedicated themselves to re-establishing this highly variable and long-lived plant.

In the past 30 years, many specialty camellia nurseries have gone out of business, replaced by mass market nurseries growing a few varieties. Loch Laurel Nursery, a newcomer (2001), offers a wide selection of new and speciality cultivars.