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Featured Plant

Camellia sinensis


Scientific Name: Camellia sinensis

Common Names: Tea Camellia

Family: Theaceae

Plant Type: Usually forms a small shrub, but can also form a small tree to 18' in the wild

Environment: Prefer acidic soil, but can handle neutral soils as well; Full morning sun and afternoon shade, too much sun can burn the leaves; Need summer watering; Plant so they are blocked from strong wind.

Bloom: Small single white flowers with bright yellow stamens appear in late fall and early winter in the Bay Area

Uses: Used to make green, black and oolong tea; seeds and leaves are used in cosmetics

Other: Tea Facts: Yellow tea is green tea processed in a way to make it yellow; Red tea is Black tea; White tea is the most expensive and coveted and is made by using the very young buds and leaves that are covered in white trichomes (hairs). Camellia sinensis var. assamica is very similar to Camellia sinensis but the leaves are larger and thinner and leathery in texture.



Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis, or "tea camellia" is a modest looking member of the beautiful Camellia family, and economically its most important. Whether this species of camellia originated in China, Japan, Indo-China, India, Burma, Korea, or the Philippines is lost in time. For thousands of years its tender young leaves have been used in tea making. Linnaeus named the genus after a Jesuit priest, George Kamel, who worked and botanized in the Philippines in the 17th century.

There is a story that English sea captains tasted tea in China and wanted to bring back plants for the western markets. Instead they were tricked and given Camellia japonica, whose beauty is unmatched but whose leaves make a very poor tea. Many shrubs were dumped in the ports of Charleston and Wilmington, later becoming the glory of the southern plantation gardens there.

The terminal shoots of C. sinensis consisting of 2 to 3 leaves are picked every 7 to 15 days in the growing season. The processes of bruising, wilting, drying and fermenting of the young leaves and the time given to each, determine the varieties of tea created. Prolonged oxidation occurs in Black tea where the flavor of tannins is present. Green tea results from a shortened process of oxidation, and Oolong tea is a combination of the two. Potassium, essential to good health, is present in tea as are antioxidants.

Camellia sinensis is a small evergreen shrub with shiny, lanceolate leaves, and small single white flowers with many golden stamens. It is widely planted in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. At the garden we also grow Camellia sinsensis var. assamica and the cultivars 'Tea Breeze' and 'Black Monday'. The only tea grown in the United States is on a Charleston Tea Plantation located on an island in South Carolina's low country. Its origins goes back to the 18th century.


Photos by Joanne Taylor, Text by Docent Kathy McNeil, Profile by David Kruse-Pickler