The Origin of the Name Camellia

This history of Kamel was taken from a copy of the Jesuit Year Book from the library of the Holy See in Rome.

‘Father George Joseph Kamel was born at Brunn, Moravia (now Czechoslavakia) on 21 April 1661. He entered as a layman in the Jesuit order in 1682, studying until 1688, at which time he was moved to the Marianas Islands. He spent a considerable time there in the study of botany and pharmacy. Under the Jesuit order, he founded outlets at Manila in the Philippine Islands from which drugs were distributed free to the poor. Father Camel (his latinised name) died in Manila on 2 May 1706.

While engaged in assisting the poor, Father Camel found time to indulge in his hobby of botany, and took a great interest in the many types of plants he found in his new home. For many years he sent descriptions and drawings of the plants and animals he observed to John Ray and James Petiver, Fellows of the Royal Horticultural Society in London. As camellias are not indigenous to the Philippines or the Marianas, it is believed Camel never saw a camellia and certainly did not write about them. Linnaeus gave the name ‘camellia’ to the genus in honour of Father Camel for his work in sending information on to Ray and Petiver.

Camellia japonica was not a native of Japan but China, and they were introduced into Japan by the Buddhist monks. Korea has a species very similar to C.japonica; Camellia chosen tsubaki, but there are no reports of any others.’

It is known that the Philippines has four species of camellias in its flora, now known as C.megocarpa, C.mollis, C.montana and C.philipinenis. Camellia chosen has been merged with C.japonica. It is no longer believed that Buddhist monks introduced C. japonica to Japan as the origins of the wild forests of camellias in Japan go back long before there were any Buddhist monks.

Camellia is spelt kamelien in German; camelia in Italian; camelia in French.

Thomas J. Savige – Camellia News No. 149 p7 June 1999