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Shrub or tree to 6 m. Branchlets greyish yellow, pubescent. Leaves leathery, (9–)12–21 × (3–)4–6 cm, oblong, upper surface dark green and glabrous, lower surface pale green and pubescent, particularly along the midrib, 8–10 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins minutely serrate, apex acuminate; petiole 0.8–1 cm long, densely pubescent. Flowers axillary or subterminal, solitary, 2.5–3 cm diameter; pedicel 0.5–0.7 cm long. Bracteoles three, caducous; sepals five to six, ovate to suborbicular, outer surfaces covered in silky hairs; petals five (to eight), white, broadly obovate, 1.5–1.8 cm long; stamens numerous, ~1 cm long; ovary densely yellowish grey-pubescent. Capsule globose or three-sided, 1.5–2 cm diameter, splitting via three valves, each segment with one to two seeds. Flowering December, fruiting September to October of the following year (China). Ming & Bartholomew 2007. Distribution CHINA: northern Guangdong, southern Hunan. Habitat Forests between 200 and 500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Not evaluated.
Camellia ptilophylla is very closely allied to C. sinensis, differing principally in the dense pubescence on its young shoots. This gives rise to its local name ‘white hair tea’, and the new growth is used to prepare a high-quality tea (Gao et al. 2005). The flowers are white with a large mass of stamens in proportion to the petals, but are rather un exciting. Cultivation requirements would seem to be the same as for C. sinensis, which is given a hardiness rating of Zone 6b–7b by Camellia Forest Nursery. (This perhaps reflects the effect of hot summers in the southeastern United States, as such a rating seems extremely optimistic from the British viewpoint.)