You might not know of this particular claim to fame, but it makes sense that Sacramento is officially Camellia City of the World. You also might not know that today is Camellia Day. One thing is for sure. You can’t miss the fact that there are probably a million of these brightly hued flowers blooming across the city, as they always do in the waning days of winter.
Camellias are native to Southeast Asia and first came here, like many other things, during the Gold Rush. Colonel James Lloyd Lafayette Franklin Warren came out West from Boston in 1851 to open, among other retail establishments, a seed shop. A year later, he imported the first batch of camellia seeds into Sacramento and they quickly took root as one of the favorite local blooms.
In 1920, we took on the title of Camellia City of the World. Camellia City was already taken by Slidell, Louisiana, and they threatened legal action if we tried to hork in on their trademark. Since then, Sacramento hosted a series of camellia events in the Spring. Back in the good old days, the Sacramento camellia festivals would last for several weeks, attracting visitors from around the world. I am even told that Sacramento used to host a Miss Camellia Pageant. In 1941, the camellia was named the official flower of Sacramento.
In 1953, The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West dedicated the Camellia Grove in Capitol Park. More than 800 varieties can be found throughout this living museum, many of which are no longer commercially available. You can find the Grove on the North side of Capitol Park near 12th and L streets. Other notable camellia groves can be found around Land Park, especially the 800 block of Markham Way.
By the early 1990’s, budget cuts and waning interest led to the decline of Sacramento’s camellia celebrations. The California State Capitol Museum Volunteer Association has kept the old tradition alive by picking and handing out hundreds of camellias today to Capitol staff and visitors.
The SacRag would like to call upon Sacramento to remember our heritage and think about our Gold Rush ancestry when we see the beautiful camellia in bloom during this time of year. We would also like to point out that the time might be right for private donors to step forward and bring back the tradition of the Sacramento Camellia Festival. This town could use a Miss Camellia again, wouldn’t you agree?