Skip to Content

Gardenia vs Camellia: 8 Key Differences

Discovering large-flowering trees and shrubs was a game changer for me. I had always associated big blooms with annuals, but then I encountered Camellias, Gardenias, and Magnolias. They completely transformed my understanding of the flower world.

The main difference between Camellia and Gardenia lies in their flowers and leaves. Camellias feature glossy, dark green leaves and large, prominent flowers that come in shades of white, pink, red, and even variegated patterns. In contrast, Gardenias have smaller, dark green, glossy leaves and are renowned for their intensely fragrant, creamy white flowers.

While both are evergreen shrubs and popular in gardens for their beauty and scent, their distinctive flower appearance and aroma set them apart.

Gardenia vs Camellia

Gardenia and Camellia

Camelia Gardenia
USDA Hardiness zone 6-9 7-11
Mature height 6-20 ft (1.8-6 m) 4-12 ft (1.2-3.6 m)
Mature width 5-8 ft (1.5-2.4 m) 4-12 ft (1.2-3.6 m)
Growth rate medium medium, fast
Light exposure shade, partial shade full sun, partial shade
Soil moist, drained moist, drained
Soil pH 5.5-6.5 5.0-6.0
Watering Two times per week in a drought One time per week in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects insects

Blooming

Flowers

While both Camellias and Gardenias have similar species-level flower characteristics, such as size ranging from 6 to 12 inches and an average of 10 petals, the similarities mostly end there. Camellias stand out with their large yellow stamens.

Diving into the varieties, Gardenia cultivars typically mirror the species with large petals and subtle yellow stamens, often not exceeding 12 petals. In contrast, Camellia varieties showcase a diverse array of flower shapes.

Notably, double-flowered Camellias boast a multitude of petals, obscuring the stamens, a stark contrast to the simpler Gardenia blooms. Additionally, Camellias come in semi-double and other varieties.

Color

Color variation is another distinction. Gardenias are predominantly white, with rare exceptions like the creamy ‘Chuck Hayes’ or the yellow ‘Golden Magic’.

Camellias, however, offer a broader palette, including pinks, reds, purples, yellows, and whites, with some even displaying bicolor patterns like the crimson-red and pink-tipped ‘Lavinia Maggi’. Furthermore, Camellias excel in providing a wider selection due to their varied flower shapes and colors.

Blooming time

Blooming periods also differ. Gardenias mainly flower in spring or summer, with some varieties extending into early autumn or briefly reblooming in fall. In contrast, Camellias bloom from fall to spring, depending on the type, with some varieties flowering from midsummer to late fall.

In suitable climates, a selection of Camellias can offer a nearly nine-month blooming period, surpassing the Gardenia’s summer-centric display.

Fragrance

The difference in scent between Camellias and Gardenias is quite distinct. Camellias generally have a subtle, if any, fragrance. Their appeal primarily lies in their visual beauty rather than their scent.

On the other hand, Gardenias are famous for their strong, sweet fragrance. The scent of Gardenias is often described as rich, intoxicating, and reminiscent of jasmine. This powerful and delightful aroma makes Gardenias a popular choice for perfumes and scented products.

In summary, while Camellias offer visual elegance with minimal scent, Gardenias provide an olfactory treat with their heady, sweet fragrance.

Size

Both Camellias and Gardenias are shrub-like plants, but they have notable differences in size and shape.

Gardenias typically grow as small shrubs, usually reaching up to 6 feet tall. While some species of Gardenia can grow as tall as 40 feet, these larger varieties are uncommon in garden settings.

Gardenias often have a spherical shape, as their width tends to match their height, resulting in a medium-sized bush resembling a large ball. However, this can vary with the variety, ranging from larger to dwarf sizes.

Camellias, in contrast, are generally larger. They commonly grow to heights of 8-15 feet, and they tend to be taller than they are wide, giving them an elongated shape. Most Camellias form oval-shaped shrubs or small, columnar trees. This growth pattern means they require more space than Gardenias, although the exact space needed will depend on the specific Camellia variety chosen.

Sunlight Requirements

Gardenias are more sun-tolerant compared to Camellias. In hardiness zones 7-8, they can handle up to 10-12 hours of direct sunlight daily. However, in warmer regions, specifically zones 9-11, Gardenias require some protection from the intense afternoon sun. Despite needing shade during the hottest part of the day, they still require a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight for optimal flowering.

Camellias, on the other hand, are less sun-hardy. Regardless of the region, they prefer partial shade. Ideal sunlight exposure for Camellias ranges from 4 to 8 hours per day, ensuring they don’t get too much sun while still receiving enough light for healthy growth.

Leaves

Camellia leaves are known for their glossy, dark green appearance. They are typically leathery in texture, providing a robust and resilient quality. The shape of Camellia leaves is usually oval with a slightly pointed tip, and they tend to be quite firm to the touch. This sturdy nature allows them to withstand various environmental conditions.

In contrast, Gardenia leaves also feature a glossy, dark green color but are generally softer and thinner than those of Camellias. The leaves of Gardenias are smaller, often exhibiting a more delicate texture. They are usually broader in shape compared to Camellia leaves and may have a more rounded or oblong appearance.

The softer nature of Gardenia leaves makes them somewhat less hardy to extreme conditions than Camellia leaves.

Heat Tolerance

Gardenias have a greater affinity for heat compared to Camellias. They can thrive up to zone 8, though only select varieties can endure the colder conditions of zone 7. Gardenias particularly excel in southern climates, with some species best suited for zones 10 and 11. Their high sun and heat tolerance make them ideal for warmer regions.

Conversely, Camellias have a different heat tolerance profile. It’s advisable not to grow them in areas south of zone 9 unless they are provided with shade. However, Camellias are more adaptable to cooler temperatures and can be successfully grown in zone 6.

Therefore, your choice between these two plants largely depends on your geographic location. Gardenias are a better fit for warmer southern areas, while Camellias are more suitable for slightly cooler, more northern regions.

Origin

Camellia, a genus prevalent across Asia and numerous Pacific island nations, is named in honor of Georg Joseph Kamel, a scientist who introduced these plants to the wider world.

Similarly, Gardenia represents its own distinct genus, found in Asia, Africa, and Australia, and is named after Alexander Garden, a botanist.

Cultivars

Compared to Camellias, Gardenias present a more limited variety in terms of colors and shapes.

There are approximately 150 species of Gardenia, with just over 200 cultivars, most of which are white. Among the notable exceptions are the intensely yellow Gardenia volkensii and Gardenia carinata, whose petals can turn orange. However, the range of variety in Gardenias largely stops there.

In contrast, the Camellia genus boasts around 300 species, with Camellia japonica being particularly popular. Through the efforts of breeders, there is an extensive array of over 3000 Camellia varieties available today.

Hybridization efforts have resulted in new flower forms, some resembling peonies, particularly in the development of double-blossom Camellias. These varieties are characterized by densely packed petals, a significant advantage of Camellias.

The color palette available in Camellias is vast, with high color saturation. Unique varieties include bicolor and even tricolor petals, as seen in Camellia japonica Tricolor.

In summary, Camellias offer far more diversity than Gardenias. If vibrant colors are your preference, Camellias are the unequivocal choice.