“The observance week of Camellia Planting Week will mark the one
(100th) hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first camellia plants in
Sacramento. These first specimens, according to A.E. Morrison,
Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner, arrived in Sacramento, February 7, 1852.
They were imported from Japan by James L.L.F. Warren, a seed store proprietor, at Front and J Streets.”
Source: Sacramento Bee, January 1952
Interest in the camellia dwindled until about 1910 when a move was started to make Sacramento known as “The Camellia Capital.” However, by 1915, the camellia again declined from public interest.
For the next eight years the camellia was a forgotten plant, until 1923, when a nursery from Southern California secretly bought many camellias for an incredibly low price and shipped them north. When the local citizens became aware of this activity, they became inspired and interest in the camellia once again was revived. The question is how to maintain that interest? The answer, the ladies of the ever-potent Tuesday Club: Camellia Shows!
The first camellia show was held in April 1924, in the David Lubin School, headed by Mrs. Charles Gilmore, Chairman. After three shows, with increasing interest from year to year, the Sacramento Garden Club was formed and each year they conducted the Annual Camellia Show. For many years, from 1931 to 1944, the chairman was Mrs. H. Pisani, who developed many of the programs that included a census of camellia plants in Sacramento, and finally a Children’s Camellia Parade.
The shows became an established event in early March of each year. However, the show needed a bigger facility due to the increased attendance and interest in camellias. As a result, the show was moved to the Memorial Auditorium from 1948 to 1974 and then to the Sacramento Community Center in 1975, just a few blocks from the auditorium. The only year in which a show was not held was 1933, due to a heavy freeze in December of 1932, which destroyed many buds, but not the plants.
By 1943, enthusiasm over camellias had reached such a level that at the November 17, 1943 meeting of the Camellia Planting Committee, Jerry Olrich, State Gardener, made an impulsive motion, “Mr. President, I move that we form a Camellia Society in Sacramento right here and now.” The motion was seconded and carried by unanimous vote and the Camellia Society was born. Present in this group was Fred Schnid, Temporary Chairman; Delbert Sprague, Vice President; Mrs. Pisani, Secretary; Mr. Hess, Treasurer; Mr. A.E. Morrison, Consulting Expert; Mr. Frederick N. Evans, Advisor; and Henry Muller, Sgt. at Arms. The dues were a whopping $2.00 per year.
Over the years, the goal of the Camellia Society was to develop a community interest in the camellia by means of various publicity campaigns. Merchants advertised their spring sales at the Camellia Show and camellia parade which resulted in the establishment of the Camellia Festival, with the show being the focal point of the festival activities. The committee also was responsible for the planting of a number of camellias in the Capital Park, William Land Park. McKinley Park, and the local hospitals.
In 1947, the Camellia Society of Sacramento, under the leadership of Arthur E. Mohr, the Society President and member Harold M. Kimball, questioned the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito Abatement District regarding the spraying of the miracle insecticide, DDT of World War II fame. The issue was not environmental consequences to humans, but rather the effect on camellias. The general application of DDT was the use of diesel fuel as the liquid base and spraying a thick fog up and down city streets. The fog being as thick as this writer recalls, it limited visibility up to 20 to 50 feet for 5 to 10 minutes. This application was alleged to have severely damaged and killed camellias in other areas. All spraying of DDT was discontinued for the remainder of 1947 while a test area was set up in which groups of plants were sprayed with varying concentrations of DDT with a mineral oil base. At the end of a four-month period, the plants were inspected. On January 8, 1948, the Sacramento Bee quoted “All camellias came through without an ill effect” very probably due to the change to oil base.
During Camellia Week of February 20th to 25th, 1950, the Camellia Society had a goal to urge residents to plant up to 50,000 new camellias. Cooperation of 10 local nurseries, 20 local stores and 3 newspapers aided the society to achieve this goal. The plants were sold for $1.50. This, indeed would make Sacramento the Camellia City of the World, having in 1941 adopted the camellia as the city’s official flower.
After more than a century of camellia culture and 32 years of camellia shows and national recognition of outstanding camellia shows in the United States, the Camellia Society of Sacramento felt that it was time to expand the camellia theme.
Ed Combatalade, a man with vision, energy and an outstanding knowledge of camellias, presented the idea of a Camellia Festival to civic leaders in various aspects of community life.
Their response was enthusiastic, and the Camellia Festival Association was formed to work with the Camellia Society and the First Annual Camellia Festival was held in February 1955. Many events for the festival were considered. They are as follows:
Camellia Queen Contest: Contestants from California State University (Sac State), Sacramento City College (Sacramento Junior College), American River College (Grant Technical College) and Cosumnes River College participated in this event.
Greater Sacramento Chamber of Commerce Breakfast: At this event, the Queen was announced.
Children’s Camellia Parade: Staged by the Sacramento City Unified School District, County Schools and City Recreation and Parks Department.
Camellia Ball: Crowning of the Camellia Queen.
Annual Camellia Show: Held in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.
On February 25, 1955, at the monthly breakfast of the Greater Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, one of the world’s authorities on camellias spoke on “Camellias around the World”. This was the theme of both the First Annual Children’s Parade and the 31st Annual Camellia Show, which ended the 11-day festival.
The Camellia Show and Festival was staged together for 30 years, the City of Sacramento aided in the funding of non-profit organizations such as the Camellia Show, but now funding was ending.Without the funding, there appeared no way to hold the show in future years. For this one year, funds were made available by the Festival Association and the show continued. The next five years, Home Savings of America fully funded the show. In 1985, Capital Federal Savings and Loan came forward with the needed financial assistance. In 1986, the Camellia Society of Sacramento and Capital Federal Savings and Loan joined together to aid with needed funding.
In 1981, Dr. and Mrs. D. Jackson Faustman, along with Molly Kimura, who is a flower arranging instructor in Japanese culture, were instrumental in bringing 22 residents from Matsuyama to our 57th Annual Camellia Show. Matsuyama is a city roughly the same size as Sacramento and has declared itself as Sacramento’s “sister city.” They also have an annual Camellia Show each year and a group of 14 people from Sacramento attended Matsuyama’s show in April of 1981. Since then, our society has formed a close bond with the camellia enthusiasts of our “sister city,” sharing camellia culture and learning more about each other.
The year 1983 not only marked the Camellia Society of Sacramento’s 59th Annual Camellia Show, but it was also the Society’s second opportunity, since its inception, to co-host the 1983 International Camellia Society Convention. This drew camellia enthusiasts from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, France, England, and Switzerland. It was a very rewarding experience for all who participated.
In 1986 the festival encompassed over 30 events, including golf tournaments, sailboat races, folk dancing, art and photo exhibits, ballet, the country’s only 24-hour 100-mile foot race, international exhibits, and a choral concert.
Moving into 1986, we looked forward to new developments in the camellia world, brought about from the introduction of the new group of reticulatas from China, including the Yellow Chrysantha.
In 1993 the Camellia Festival ended, but the Camellia Society of Sacramento continues to grow and flourish. The years that followed continued to support the goal of the original group, encouraging the community to enjoy and grow camellias.
During the last few years, many of the various flower societies, such as Dahlias and Geraniums, no longer exist, and others such as the Rose Societies have dwindled. Some Camellia Societies in Napa, Atwater and Fresno also dissolved. Although the Camellia Society of Sacramento has a smaller membership, it still is the largest in California. The annual Camellia Show is somewhat smaller than in years past, but is still the largest in the United States, and possibly the World
The monthly meetings have moved from the Shepard Garden & Arts Center, Studio Theatre, Lutheran Church of the Master and are currently held at the Elks Lodge #6.
The Annual Camellia show was traditionally held at the Memorial Auditorium and the Convention Center. In 2020 we moved to the Elk’s Lodge #6 on Riverside Boulevard because the Memorial Auditorium and Convention Center were being renovated.
The Society has participated in many local functions including the Murer House in Folsom, California State Fair, William Land Park, American Camellia Society Convention and Northern California Camellia Council. Presentations have been given to various groups as a Public Service and to keep the general public aware of our availability. The Society has fund raisers such as an annual plant sale and the annual button sale initiated by the Camellia Festival Society. Local schools, residents, etc. are invited to submit drawings for the buttons. A prize is awarded to the winner. The monthly meetings for members, from October through April, end with a plant raffle. Other events are an annual Christmas dinner with a gift exchange and a luncheon in April. Camellias are displayed at our meetings during blooming season.
The local media support has dwindled, with the dissolution of the Sacramento Union newspaper and reduced size of the Sacramento Bee. However, local television stations provide good public relations for the Society. The quality of Camellia flowers has improved considerably over the years, particularly in the Reticulata and Non-Reticulata Hybrid categories.
After the Camellia Society annual show in March of 2020, the Covid-19 virus prevented any of the other California Camellia Shows from being presented. Nearly all civic activities, including Camellia Society meetings, shows, etc. have come to a halt, as have worldwide activities. Only one Camellia Show has took place in the United States; that was in the state of Florida.
We look forward to celebrating our 100th in 2024! With the help of our loyal members and the outreach of our community, WE HOPE THAT OUR CITY FLOWER, THE CAMELLIA, BLOOMS FOREVER.
May we continue to cherish the delicate beauty of the camellia for years to come. Is it any wonder that Sacramento is the Camellia Capital of the World?
The family-owned nurseries in the Sacramento area have all but disappeared, so the availability of the newer varieties is somewhat limited. Camellias are sold at our annual camellia show and Nuccio’s Nursery in Altadena, CA.
Visit Old Sacramento to see the site of the original New England Feed Store, Front & J Streets. There is a plaque at the very place the feed store was located.
Flooding in Downtown Sacramento