In The Garden Now ... Zig Zag Contorted Camellia ... Dragon in the Clouds Camellia

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Camillia Unryu closeup

Text and photos by Victoria Gilleland

If you like something a little different you might like growing this special camellia in a container or a garden bed. Camellia ‘Unryu’ originated in Japan and its Japanese name means “Dragon in the Clouds” suggesting the twisting of a dragon as it climbs to the sky. I love the name and the distinctive growth pattern of this small shrub!

This is an unusual camellia variety because the plant has such a twisted or contorted growth pattern. Branches make a zig zag pattern of crisscrossing branches from top to bottom. This is an upright small to medium size camellia growing to a linear 6 feet tall. Many camellia varieties are notorious for becoming great hulking masses that are not very attractive for much of the year. Because of its smaller size and unusual branching pattern this plant can become a focal point in the garden rather than a problem plant.

A Dragon in the Clouds

I really do like red flowers and there are quite a few red camellias out there. In fact you might have read the article about the Yuletide Camellia that I wrote in December. This one is a little different…. with nodding rose red flowers, a contorted shape and a later bloom time.

I’ve been growing my Zig Zag Camellia in a container perched on a stump in a shady garden area for about five years now. The plant is about four feet tall and has some side branches to four feet wide but still has a very open growth pattern.

It took several years for my plant to get settled. The first three or four years it just sort of sat there looking okay but not wonderful. A few flowers were produced each year, but nothing spectacular. Last year only two flowers opened. The buds were hit by an early frost the previous fall and were lost or damaged. This year there are 15 open flowers on my plant at this time with at least 15 more to come. This makes me happy!

Zig Zag Camillia
This single shrub planted in a pot near your front door could brighten your world year round. Even when it’s not sporting its striking bell shaped red flowers, the deep green leaves and the distinctive silhouette are eye catching. How about a “Climbing Dragon” for your garden?

(Botanical Name: Camellia japonica ‘Unryu’ )

Victoria Gilleland is the owner of Cottage Garden Designs, a Garden Design company specializing in Redesign of Residential Gardens, Garden Consultation and Coaching. She has been designing gardens in the northwest for over 20 years.


Anonymous,  April 6, 2023 at 6:24 AM  

I have a yard that is shaded about 70% of the day. I wonder if this Camellia japonica ‘Unryu’ would thrive in this location?

Anonymous,  August 26, 2023 at 3:49 PM  

I have a pretty shady yard and it does well. But they do need some sun because of leaf mold.

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