Camellias were first introduced to California in the 1850s and have become a Sacramento tradition. The Camellia Grove pays tribute to the pioneers who shaped the state.
Camellias like the pioneers they honor, are not native to California. Originally from Southeast Asia, they made their debut in Sacramento during the Gold Rush. James Lloyd Lafayette Franklin Warren, a local seed store owner, brought the first seeds from Boston in 1852. Little did he know that Sacramento would become the "Camellia City of the World"─the title bestowed upon it in the 1920s.
Since then Sacramento has hosted special events every spring during the peak of the camellia season. In the past these events were actually festivals lasting several weeks, and visitors came from around the world to attend. Volunteers gave out flowers at the airport, convalescent homes, and other locations throughout the city.
The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West dedicated Capitol Park's Camellia Grove to the memory of their pioneer ancestors in 1953. More than 800 different varieties can be found throughout the park, with blossoms in white, deep red, and every shade in between. Some are even striped and speckled in a combination of colors. Many of the grove's 186 camellias are heirloom varieties and no longer available commercially. The grove is especially beautiful from fall to spring when the dark, leathery leaves complement the colorful blossoms.
In the 1990s Camellia Day at the State Capitol replaced the longer festivals. The event is sponsored by the California State Capitol Museum and the California State Capitol Museum Volunteer Association. Each year volunteers hand out corsages made with flowers picked from the Camellia Grove.
A gradual shift from the use of natural, living memorials like the grove to man made monuments can be seen nearby. The Camellia Grove now forms a backdrop for a statue of Father Junípero Serra installed in 1965. Serra, a Franciscan friar, established the first California missions in the 1700s.