For 1000’s of years, gardeners all over the world have been growing and enjoying Tea. The Tea Plant is the common name for this incredible plant, but its botanical name is Camellia sinensis. That’s right, this incredible plant is a member of the camellia family. Just like their ornamental cousins, Camellia sinensis plants are native to Asia. There are over 250 species of Camellia in the world, but Camellia sinensis is the only one that is widely grown for Tea.
Every day, millions of people in the world have their early morning cup of Tea. In the southern United States, “Sweet Tea” is a main stay at most restaurants. In fact, after water, Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. Somehow, it seems strange that this drink we all love is made from the leaves of a camellia, but it is true.
Cultivars of Camellia sinensis contain caffeine, while the others do not. Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound that is found in a wide variety of plants, including the coffee plant and the Cacao plant. It is a desirable stimulant that wards off sleep and restores alertness and refreshment. Because of this, Camellia sinensis has been used for centuries as a calming, refreshing beverage. Legend has it that thousands of years ago, a Chinese monk , tired and weary from his long day at work, decided to make a pot of soup. As the water boiled, some leaves from the Camellia tree above fell into his pot and he tasted the brew and was instantly refreshed. Thus, the legend of Tea was born!
Camellia sinensis is not just one plant. It has many thousand cultivars or varieties. Each of these varieties bear similar characteristics with one another. As with other camellia species, there are many characteristics within the sinensis species that differ from one another. You will find large and small foliage sizes and textures. Also growth rates and habits can vary from upright growing varieties with large leaves to small compact dwarf-like plants with very small leaves. Like all camellia species, Camellia sinesnsis cultivars have flowers, usually very small and range from pure white to a blush pink with large yellow stamens. They normally bloom anywhere from late summer to early fall.
Camellia sinesnsis is grown for commercial tea production all over the world. But you don’t have to have a tea plantation to produce your own home grown tea. All you need are a few plants, the right environment, a little practice, and in no time at all, you’ll be brewing tea from your own plants. Plants you grow at home can provide you and your family with a beverage that is organically grown and free of pesticides and GMOs.
Although Camellia sinesnsis is predominantly grown for tea, it is not limited to that. The sheer density, evergreen leaves and blooming characteristics of Camellia sinensis cultivars are quite attractive for any garden, patio or container plant. The larger growing varieties would be well suited for a hedge or screen. Most cultivars are hardy to around 20ºF.
Camellia sinensis plants will grow in just about the same locations that their ornamental cousins grow in the south. These plants are also excellent for use in container gardening. The one very important growing requirement of Tea is extremely good drainage. They want to be moist at all times but not wet, so avoid use of soils containing heavy amounts of peat moss. This is especially important in container gardening. These plants benefit from slightly raised plantings in the garden where all excess water can drain away from the root system.
Whether you want to grow your own Tea or simply want to enjoy another different camellia for its ornamental value, Tea is the next great plant for southern gardens. Our Tea selections demonstrate the incredible diversity of this amazing plant. We are certain that southern gardeners will fall in love with this unique addition to the garden!