The Camellia State

This is a pretty crazy week for me in my real job, so prepare for a bit of a "fluffy" post.  Let's talk flowers!

Camellia closeup (public domain photo)

In 1959, the Alabama State Legislature named the Camellia the state flower of Alabama.  Here's the specific law on the books today:

Title 1.
Chapter 2. STATE SYMBOLS AND HONORS.
SECTION 1-2-11.

State flower; state wildflower.

(a) The camellia, Camellia japonica L., is hereby designated and named as the official state flower of Alabama.

(b) The oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia Bartr., is hereby designated the official state wildflower of Alabama.

(c) Specimens of the state flower and state wildflower shall be deposited in the Auburn University Herbarium.
— The Code of Alabama

The Goldenrod, former champion (public domain photo)

The plot thickens though, because the Camellia is a usurper.  In fact, it's a foreign usurper.  Alabama's original state flower was the Goldenrod, and from 1927 to 1959 everyone was happy with that.  The Yellowhammer was also the state bird, so they even had a color theme going.  In the 50s, one group started arguing that the goldenrod can't be the state flower, because it's really just a weed.  The fact that this group grew camellias was completely unrelated to their protestations.  They appealed to a state legislator, and in August 1959 the Camellia's coup was complete.  But why the camellia?  What tied it to Alabama?

Camellia invades America, conquers Alabama (public domain photo)

It turns out, there isn't much about the Camellia that screams "Alabama!".  Camellias are actually from East Asia, and the Camellia japonica specifically is native to the southern regions of Korea and Japan, as well as a region in China just across the East China Sea.  The oldest known camellias in Europe are in Campo Bello, Portugal, and were planted around 1550.  The camellia didn't make it to North America until 1807, when it was originally sold as a greenhouse plant.  The best connection I can make between Alabama and the camellia is that they've both been a part of the United States for about the same length of time.

The historical marker commemorating the Camellia's rise to Alabama supremacy can be seen next, along with a transcription of the text and a shot of the marker's surroundings on the northern end of the Capitol grounds.

Camellia, State Flower historical marker, Capitol Hill, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Camellia Designated Alabama State Flower

The Alabama Legislature approved a bill sponsored by Rep. T.E. Martin of Montgomery County in 1927 that designated the Goldenrod the official state flower. It became law on Sept. 6, 1927, the same day that the Yellowhammer became the official state bird.

In 1959, camellia growers in Butler County argued that the goldenrod was a weed and convinced State Representative Folsom LaMont Glass of Greenville (The Camellia City) to introduce a bill naming the Camellia as the official state flower. The measure passed on August 26, 1959, and was signed by Governor John Patterson.

Because there were numerous types of camellia, the 1999 Legislature specified that the Camellia japonica L. to be the official state flower. The same day the Oak-leaf Hydrangea, native to the state, was named the state wildflower.
— Marker erected during The Year of Alabama History - 2009

North side of Capitol Hill, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama