When Paul Mezo sees a camellia sasanqua in bloom, it tells him one thing.

“It’s how you know it’s fall,” said Mezo, a horticulturist at Banting’s Nursery in Bridge City. “It’s the one sure sign that we’ve moved out of summer and are heading toward winter.”

Sasanqua camellias bloom earlier in the season than camellia japonicas, their larger leafed, bigger blossomed cousins. But with both in the home garden, camellias can ensure blooms from October well into March.

Mezo said that there is one in particular that most customers ask for when they come plant hunting.

“It’s ShiShi Gashira,” he said. “It isn’t really a sasanqua — it’s a camellia hiemalis — but people think of it along with sasanquas because it starts blooming at the same time and has similar blooms. Five to one, it’s what our customers ask for.”

The same phenomenon occurs at Jefferson Feed in Old Jefferson, according to Kimrey Allen.

“We carry other kinds, but it’s the ShiShi that people come asking for,” she said.

A major boost in the plant’s popularity came when the LSU AgCenter named it a Louisiana Super Plant in the fall of 2010.

Noting its vivid, double pink blooms and its reliability, the AgCenter praised it, saying it would be difficult to find “a finer, more attractive and reliable, low-growing shrub for Louisiana landscapes.”

Other attributes that contribute to its high demand are its compact growing habits and its adaptability to a wider range of light conditions than some other camellias.

But what about true sasanqua camellias? Are there any notables in the species worth considering for variety’s sake?

Absolutely, said Mezo and Allen.

“There are plenty of sasanquas that produce vivid pink blooms like ShiShi Gashira,” Mezo said. “Kanjairo stands out.”

The petals on its blossoms grade from dark pink near the center, to lighter pink, then back to dark pink on the edges. Clusters of vivid yellow stamens in the center add to its allure.

“There are plenty of others to consider, too. A nice one is Hana-Jiman,” Mezo noted. “The petals of its blooms are white with pink edging, and there is a prominent cluster of yellow stamens in the middle of each bloom. The flowers have a slight sweet fragrance if you get really close.”

Also in the white category is Snow on the Mountain, a variety that Allen said has been recommended. It produces abundant fluffy white flowers having double blooms in pure white.

Both Mezo and Allen agree that Yuletide is an easy-to-find sasanqua that adds a lot of drama to the home garden, especially heading into the holiday season.

“It’s flowers are crimson and their yellow stamens make them look really festive, especially since they’ll be blooming around Christmastime,” Allen said.

Mezo added that the Yuletide has an upright habitat that makes it a winner when considering a sasanqua to grow in a decorative container.

All camellia sasanquas have similar needs: well-drained beds, part sun to part shade, a little more than adequate water and mildly acidic soil. They are slow growers, so patience is required. Many can grow large, so it is necessary to leave enough room in the garden for them to reach a mature size.

“There are so many options out there in sasanqua camellias, in color and in flower forms,” Mezo said. “There is no good reason to limit yourself to using just one in your garden plan. ShiShi Gashira is an excellent choice, but it isn’t the only choice.”

R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at rstephaniebruno@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno