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Shrub 1–3.5 m, rarely tree 5–8 m. Branchlets purplish brown, grey-pubescent. Leaves thin and leathery, 3–5.5 × 1.5–3 cm, elliptic to obovate or oblong, upper surface dark green with some hairs along the midrib, lower surface pale green and sparsely villous along the midrib, five to six secondary veins on each side of the midrib, though somewhat obscured, margins minutely serrate, apex blunt to rounded; petiole 0.3– 0.5 cm long, pubescent. Flowers axillary, solitary, 1.5–2.5(–3) cm diameter, subsessile. Bracteoles/sepals 7–8(–10), caducous, outside grey-pubescent; petals five to seven, white or pink, obovate, 1.5–2.5 cm long, apex deeply emarginate; stamens numerous, 0.5–1 cm long; ovary yellow-tomentose. Capsule brown, globose, 1.5–1.8 cm long, usually with a single seed. Flowering October to December, fruiting September to October of the following year (China). Ming & Bartholomew 2007. Distribution CHINA: southern Anhui, Fujian, northwest Guangdong, northeast Guangxi, Guizhou, southern Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang; TAIWAN. Habitat Forest thickets between 200 and 1100 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Chang & Bartholomew 1984.
The freely produced but small flowers of Camellia brevistyla are usually white (pink in var. rubida P.L. Chiu), and have the advantage of appearing in autumn, above neat, small leaves. The bark is an attractive orange colour (Camellia Forest Nursery 2007–2008). Camellia brevistyla is related to C. sasanqua, with which it will hybridise (Gao et al. 2005), and C. oleifera. In North Carolina it has proved hardy and easy to cultivate at Camellia Forest Nursery, and a plant has been growing steadily at the JC Raulston Arboretum since 2001.