Shrub or tree 1.5–5(–8) m. Branchlets yellowish grey, shortly pubescent. Leaves papery or thin and leathery, 5–8 × 1.5–3.5 cm, elliptic to oblong, upper surface dark green with minute hairs, particularly along the midrib, lower surface pale green and strigose, six to eight secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins minutely serrate, apex acuminate to caudate; petiole 0.2–0.5 cm long, pubescent. Flowers axillary, solitary; pedicel 0.2–0.5 cm long. Bracteoles four to five, 0.05–0.15 cm long, outside densely pubescent; calyx five-lobed, outside densely pubescent; petals five (to seven), white or pale purplish red in bud, obovate, 1–2.5 cm long, apex emarginate; stamens numerous, 1.2–1.8 cm long; ovary glabrous. Capsule subglobose, 1–1.5 cm diameter, green to purplish red, surmounted by the elongated style, usually with a single seed. Flowering February to March, fruiting September to October (China). Ming & Bartholomew 2007. Distribution CHINA: northern Guangxi, Guizhou, western Hubei, western Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan. Habitat Forest between 400 and 1500(–2000) m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8 (?). Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Chang & Bartholomew 1984.
Although its slightly scented flowers are rather small, they are freely produced in early spring and make Camellia costei a worthy garden plant (Gao et al. 2005). The neat narrow foliage is also attractive, especially as the new growth is reddish on emergence (Camellia Forest Nursery 2007–2008). It is cultivated in southern California, where it seems to do well, and is offered by Camellia Forest Nursery, North Carolina.