Alabama's Camellia Rose of Dixie

Beauty and History: The Story Behind Alabama’s State Flower, the Camellia

Alabama's Camellia Rose of Dixie

[] BEAUTY –As Alabama celebrates its bicentennial, there's another reason to celebrate: sixty years ago, the winter-blooming camellia was designated as the state flower, thanks to a dedicated group of flower enthusiasts.

This fascination with camellias stretches back much further than six decades.

“As America overall fell in love with camellias, they became fashionable all over the country,” said Mobile resident Forrest Latta, vice president of the Alabama Camellia Society.

Alabama was no exception. Thanks to a group of renowned nurserymen in Mobile, the camellia gradually became a staple in gardens across the state.

“In the 1800s in Alabama, having a camellia in your yard was like having a Rolex watch,” Latta said. “Only the grand old homes had camellias back in those days.”

Camellias’ popularity has only grown, driven by their vibrant varieties, exclusivity, and winter blooming season.

“When everything else around is brown, it’s one of the few plants that blooms during its dormancy – most things bloom during their growing season,” Latta explained.

By the 1940s, the camellia had become so beloved that a movement began to make it the state flower.

“The town of Greenville in Butler County decided to make it their symbol, and enthusiasm spread to Mobile, Birmingham, and other places,” Latta said. “In Birmingham, the camellia show outsold the Iron Bowl.”

In 1959, Governor John Patterson, encouraged by his Butler County-raised wife, signed a bill making the camellia the state’s official flower, replacing the goldenrod, which some considered a sneeze-inducing weed.

“The state flower is bipartisan,” Latta noted. “It’s like apple pie. There’s nobody who doesn’t like a camellia.”

Today, the passion for camellias remains strong, supported by modern technology. The Alabama Camellia Society, one of the most active groups, maintains a website and Facebook page showcasing their activities and the many beautiful varieties of camellias, such as the Pride of Greenville and Tomorrow Tropic Dawn.

In February, the society will host the National Convention and Camellia Show in Mobile, attracting flower enthusiasts from across the country. This event highlights the flower’s significance in the state it represents.

“So many facets of our culture here in Alabama are influenced by the camellia,” Latta said. “It just makes sense that it’s our state flower because no other flower matches its beauty and historical significance, particularly its adaptability to our life in the deep south.”