Polk County’s Most Wanted – Plant!

Published 12:57 pm Monday, March 2, 2020

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In a joint effort to expand the knowledge and understanding of the flora and fauna of Polk County, Conserving Carolina and botanist/ecologist David Campbell need your help in locating this month’s “Polk County’s Most Wanted—Plant,” Mountain Camellia (Stewartia ovata), one of the Southeast’s most beautiful shrubs. 

A deciduous shrub reaching a height of over fifteen feet, Mountain Camellia occurs primarily in the mountains and piedmont region of the southern Appalachians. Leaves are up to six inches in length, ovate, alternate, simple, and weakly serrate with ciliate (‘haired’) margins. Flowers are large and spectacular, up to three inches wide, white in coloration, and with fringed margins.  Flowers also have conspicuously yellow anthers. Flowering occurs from June through July. Mountain Camellia favors acidic soils on bluffs and slopes, often near creeks or rivers, and it frequently grows in openings with Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum).  

Mountain Camellia is an uncommon to rare shrub throughout its range and discovering one in the wild in full flower is a sight not soon to be forgotten. Mountain Camellia has been found in neighboring the counties of Burke and Rutherford, but thus far has evaded attempts to locate it in Polk. Search for this plant on well-drained slopes dominated by Rhododendron, particularly where there are gaps in the Rhododendron thicket that allow higher levels of sunlight. Eastern Polk County is more likely to have the acidic soil types favored by Mountain Camellia, but it is conceivable that it could occur throughout the county in areas of appropriate habitat.

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If you think that you have located an individual or population of Stewartia ovata, please contact Pam Torlina at Conserving Carolina by email at pam@conservingcarolina.org

Visit Conserving Carolina’s website, conservingcarolina.org/polk-most-wanted, for more information about “Polk County’s Most Wanted” and to download and print a “Pocket Guide” with all of the “Most Wanted” plants, animals, and habitats that you can be on the lookout for. 

Conserving Carolina, your local land trust, is dedicated to protecting land and water, promoting good stewardship, and creating opportunities for people to enjoy nature. Learn more and become a member at conservingcarolina.org.


Submitted by Pam Torlina