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Camellias of Porto: Natural Heritage of the City

2 de January, 2024

Camellias of Porto: Natural Heritage of the City

Portugal has a strong connection with camellias (or "japoneiras"). The flower is celebrated in events like the Camellia Festival and on the Camellia Routes. Discover its history!
Camelia do Porto ou japoneira em cor rosa
Reading: 5 min

Portugal has a strong relationship with Camellias. The plant arrived in the country in the 18th century, likely brought from the East by navigators. They mainly settled in the north. Today, Porto’s Camellias are a true natural heritage and emblematic symbol of this city. They were cultivated in large quantities in gardens and estates in the region. To this day, the Japanese camellia (the name by which this flower is known in Porto) is celebrated in events like the Camellia Festival, an annual happening, and also in the Camellia Routes.

While walking through Porto, you can see the presence of this flower in important city spaces, such as the area around Torre dos Clérigos, Parque da Cidade, Avenida da Boavista, and the garden of Fundação Serralves. However, it’s at the Porto Botanical Garden where you’ll possibly find the largest quantity and diversity of camellias in the world.

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What are Camellias?

Camellias are ornamental plants originating from Asia, specifically Japan, China, and Korea. They are known for their showy flowers, varying in size and color, appearing in white, pink, red, or variegated hues.

When do Camellias bloom in Portugal?

They bloom in winter, between January and March.

Fascinating facts about Camellias

  • Camellias have been cherished for over a thousand years in China and Japan, where they symbolize love and devotion.
  • Camellia sinensis is the most cultivated species worldwide, being the plant that produces leaves used in tea production.
  • The flowers of the Camellia are often used in floral arrangements and wedding bouquets, symbolizing perfect beauty.
  • Camellias are also valued for their medicinal properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, Camellia is used to treat headaches, stomach pains, and other health issues.
  • Camellia seed oil is a popular ingredient in beauty products like moisturizers and shampoos due to its hydrating and antioxidant properties.
  • In many cultures, Camellias are associated with death and mourning. In Victorian England, white Camellias were often placed on graves as a sign of respect.
  • Camellias play a significant role in popular culture, seen in works like Alexandre Dumas’ “The Lady of the Camellias” and Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata,” inspired by Dumas’ work.

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Why is Porto considered the city of Camellias?

In the 16th century, the Portuguese brought Japanese plants from Asia to Europe, including numerous wild varieties of the species, relatives of the plant that produces tea. Certainly, Camellias reached Portugal through Lisbon, the major European hub during the Age of Discoveries. However, due to the climate and soil in the capital city, it was extremely challenging to extend the life of a Camellia for more than a year in that region. Consequently, the plant became common in the northern part of the country, especially in Porto, due to the absence of calcareous soils and extreme temperatures that are lethal to this plant species. Camellias were rare and sold at high prices at the time. In Porto, Camellias were known and offered by everyone, probably the reason why the plant is so prevalent in the region.

Room full of camellias: First edition of the Camellia Festival, in 2015. Photo: Rita Branco
First edition of the Camellia Festival, in 2015. Photo: Rita Branco

The Andressen family and Porto’s Camellias

Finally, we cannot forget to mention the influence of the Andressen family in popularizing this plant in the city…

The Andressen family, besides owning a Port wine brand, was also known for their passion for Camellias. For decades, the Andressen family collected and cultivated Camellias in their private garden, bringing species from all parts of the world to the space where the Porto Botanical Garden now operates. Many of these species, originating from Japan and Belgium, no longer exist in those countries due to wars, but can be found in this space, now managed by the University of Porto.

Porto Botanical Garden: 750 types of Camellias in one place

If you wish to see the greatest possible variety of Camellias in one day, there is no better destination than the Porto Botanical Garden. Beyond being a place for study, dating, meditation, tourism, writing, or reading, the garden houses a myriad of plant species, especially Camellias. Apart from the original collection of the Andressens, crossbreeding between species has resulted in more than 750 types (including species and cultivars) of Camellias, earning it the “International Garden of Excellence” award from the International Camellia Society.

Route of Camellias in Northern Portugal

The Camellia Route is a tourist itinerary that allows visitors to explore various places related to Camellias in the northern region of Portugal. There is no predefined route, giving tourists the freedom to create their own itinerary from the map of locations to be visited. This route encompasses several cities and destinations with houses, squares, and gardens featuring beautiful Camellias, notably in Ponte de Lima, Lousada, and Porto, which have a large number of registered locations. To assist visitors, there is a guide available in physical format, which can be obtained for free at the tourist information centers in the northern region, or in an online format for download. This guide provides detailed information about the visits, including exact locations, public availability, and whether any costs are associated. Additionally, the guide showcases enchanting photos of Camellias, becoming a special keepsake of the tourist experience.

Camellias and gastronomy!

Although Camellias in Portugal are primarily ornamental, the plant is used in gastronomy. The flowers are used in various dishes, from salads and soups to cocktails and even desserts like jams and jellies. The flavor of the Camellia is slightly sweet, and the flower is valued for its antioxidant and medicinal properties. Camellias are also used to produce liquor.

Camellia Festival in Porto

Usually, during the flowering season of Camellias, which occurs in winter and spring in the northern hemisphere, specifically between January and April, the Camellia Festival takes place. During the event, various activities are held to promote appreciation and knowledge about Camellias. Exhibitions of Camellias in diverse varieties, competitions, and lectures on the cultivation of this beautiful flower are organized. The program is usually announced annually on the website of the Porto City Council. In 2024, Parque de São Roque hosts one of the main exhibitions of its kind, see here.

Living in Portugal

Camellias are just one example among the countless beauties and charms that Portugal has to offer. If you wish to move to Portugal and experience the cultural, historical, and natural richness of this extraordinary country, we are here to assist you. Atlantic Bridge is a company specialized in Portuguese residence and citizenship visa services, committed to making your journey of moving to Portugal smoother and more uncomplicated. Contact us today and start shaping a future filled with unforgettable experiences in Portugal!

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Silvia Resende

Author:

Silvia Resende

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