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Camellia and Rev. Georg Joseph Kamel

By: Floro Mercene

Camellia, the beautiful, flowering shrub, is an Asian flowering plant. They are found in eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalayas to Japan and Indonesia. More than 3,000 named kinds of camellias exist in a remarkable range of colors, forms, and sizes. Large, rose like blossoms are with colors ranging from white to pink to red to yellow. A wide range of blossom sizes are semi-double, double, and variegated blooms.

Camellia flowers throughout the genus are characterized by a dense bouquet of conspicuous yellow stamens often contrasting with the petal colors. They are shrubs or small trees up to 20 meters with evergreen, glossy dark leaves.

The name Camellia is taken from the Latinized name (Georgius Josephus Camellus) of Rev. Georg Joseph Kamel, SJ (1661–1706), a Moravian-born Jesuit lay brother, pharmacist, and missionary to the Philippines.

Kamel arrived in Manila in 1688 and spent the rest of his life describing the taxonomy and systematic of Philippine plants and animals as part of his practice of pharmacy and medicine, in which he dispensed medicines made from local plants. He established the first Jesuit pharmacy in the Philippines and supplied remedies to the poor and the indigenous people for free.

Kamel sent specimens of the local flora to leading Botanists John Ray and James Petiver. His first shipment, specimens with his book ‘Herbs and medicinal plants in the island of Luzon, Philippines’, fell into the hands of pirates and were lost. He sent another volume of his work the following year. It was published as an appendix to Ray’s ‘Historia Plantarum’ (1704), and gained him international recognition.

Carl Linnaeus, Swedish botanist, often called the Father of Taxonomy, chose his name in 1753 for the genus to honor Kamel’s contribution to botany.