Who Spilled Paint on My Camellias?

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This article was written by Gail Griffin, Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer in Lee County.

If you happened to be painting your house yellow, you may be the culprit. If no insects are detectable, then it is likely your plants have a disease known as camellia yellow mottle virus. Like we need another virus to talk about. If this disease is present, the flower petals may have some discoloration, but the leaves are the most notable characteristic. They are usually covered with yellow blotches which may have a variegated appearance. Some leaves may be entirely yellow. Sometimes the virus is found throughout the plant. More often than not, only a single branch is affected.

There are no chemical treatments for this disease. Generally, it will not cause the plant to die. However, the hardiness of the plant may be affected. If leaves become totally yellow over time, they may be unable to produce chlorophyll and will tend to weaken the plant and decrease the number of blooms. You may prune the infected branches from the plant, but the virus is likely to return in the new growth. The virus can spread to other camellias in the landscape if you do not disinfect your pruners. Practice good pruning techniques with properly sharpened tools and disinfect them between cuts. Rake fallen leaves and debris from around the plant and discard, but do not compost.

Camellias have been cultivated for a considerable length of time tracing back to the Orient. Some individual plants in Japan are known to be over five hundred years old. We are more familiar with the ornamental plants, but most species include the varieties grown for tea. There are over two hundred species and over two thousand named varieties. According to the American Camellia Society, the number of
total varieties may be as high as twenty thousand worldwide. That’s a lot of begetting.

The virus is most likely spread during propagation from an infected plant or through root grafts. If you have planted several plants at the same time, they will all likely have the same virus. The best recommendation is to choose healthy plants from a reputable garden center.

Don’t stress over the camellia yellow mottle virus. Enjoy the beautiful blooms. If you like the shade of yellow on the leaves, a local paint center could probably find a perfect match for you, you know, in case you want to paint your house.

For more information on plant viruses, visit the North Carolina State website at
5 Diseases and Disorders.

Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer in Lee County


Camellia Diseases and Insect Pests
WSU Hortsense

Written By

Minda Daughtry, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionMinda DaughtryExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture Call Minda E-mail Minda N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center
Updated on Feb 3, 2021
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