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Shrub or tree 2–8 m, 0.1–0.3 m dbh. Branchlets reddish brown, glabrous, or green and villous when young. Leaves leathery, 5–12 × 3–5 cm, elliptic, upper surface dark green and shiny, bristly along the midrib, lower surface pale green and glabrous, seven to nine secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins minutely serrate, apex acute to acuminate; petiole 0.5–0.7 cm long, glabrous. Flowers axillary, solitary, fragrant, 6–7.5 cm diameter, subsessile. Bracteoles/sepals 10–12 or more, caducous, glabrous; petals five to eight, white, obovate, 3–6 cm long, apex emarginate; stamens numerous, 1.2–1.7 cm long; ovary densely tomentose. Capsule globose to ovoid, 4–7 cm diameter, woody, splitting via three to five valves, each section holding one to four seeds. Flowering December to January, fruiting October (China). Ming & Bartholomew 2007. Distribution CHINA: southwest Guangdong, southern Guangxi, Hainan; VIETNAM. Habitat Forest between 100 and 700 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Taxonomic note The identity of C. drupifera has been uncertain for some time. Chang & Bartholomew (1984) treated it as a synonym of C. oleifera C. Abel, despite the former being an older name and thus having priority. Flora of China (Ming & Bartholomew 2007) recognises C. drupifera and C. oleifera as distinct species, differentiated by the glabrous nature of the branch-lets and bracteoles, and outsides of sepals, in C. drupifera (pubescent to tomentose in C. oleifera). Camellia drupifera is widely cultivated in southern China and Vietnam and this can lead to difficulties in interpreting both the wild distribution and the extent of naturally occurring morphological variation.
This taxon is represented in cultivation by plants identified as Camellia vietnamensis, and as such is a beautiful small tree with big white and yellow scented flowers, well displayed against the dark green foliage in late autumn and winter. It is resistant to most Camellia diseases, but unfortunately is not very hardy: Gao et al. (2005) have stated that it is susceptible to temperatures below –6 ºC, although its hybrids (with C. sasanqua, for example) are much hardier and retain the floral showiness. It is in cultivation in the United States and in Australasia.