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Winter Tea Flowers
An old saying in chanoyu states, “for winter use the camellia, in summer the rose of sharon.” And in most winter season tearooms, a camellia stem with a full but unopened bud and three or five leaves is placed with another woody-stemmed branch in a ceramic, bamboo, or bronze vase.

Early records of tea gatherings note these winter flowers with the
characters ‘mountain tea flower” While not entirely clear, this
reference is assumed to mean Camellia japonica. Another, closer relative to the tea bush named Camellia sasanqua, is normally avoided in the tearoom precisely because of its more intimate link with the beverage that is the focus of the gathering.

Since its introduction to Europe in 1739 by Joseph Camellas, over 500 varieties of the camellia have been identified and developed. While the flower of the original tree is red, color variation now ranges from white to pink to dark red as well as striated blooms. Though superficial attention may render indistinguishable many varieties, close observation of blooming season, color and shape of the flower, and of the leaf and stamen cylinder will reveal points by which specific plants can be identified.

The variety shown here is known as Bokuhan (Companion in Simplicity) camellia. A single layer of deep crimson petals surround the distinctive white “peony” center. The deep green leaves are narrow and shallowly serrated.
Bokuhan camellias became well known for their striking contrast of colors from the Edo Period (1615-1868), and still today enjoy the highest regard. A variant of this tea flower is named Bokuhan Nishiki (Brocaded Companion in Simplicity). Here both petals and center are crimson red while the petaloid center is even more pronounced.

When it begins to bloom, from January through March, the flower displays a narrow, tubelike shape, and because of the small size of the bloom, is used when partially opened. However the fully opened form, when petals lay flat around the stamen, is usually avoided in the tearoom. The growth habit is upright and angular, with vigorous extension of its branches. This plant may be found in Western nurseries under the name “Tinsie.”

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