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CAMELLIA sinensis

Image of Camellia sinensis

JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Family

Theaceae

Botanical Name

CAMELLIA sinensis

Plant Common Name

Tea, Tea Camellia

General Description

The leaves and buds of this evergreen Chinese tree are the source of the favorite beverage, tea. If left unpruned, a mature tree can reach a substantial size and typically has an upright habit and spreading crown. When grown for tea production, tea trees are severely pruned on a regular basis to keep them short and shrubby for easy harvest and heavier leaf production.

Tea trees have dark green, oval leaves that are leathery, glossy and have tiny teeth on the edges. Their central rib, or vein, is light yellow-green. In autumn, fragrant white flowers appear among the foliage and continue to bloom into winter. These have a mass of lovely golden yellow stamens at their centers. The young branches are reddish brown with gray striations, and the mature bark is smooth and grayish tan.

Tea plantations take a while to establish because the trees are slow-growing. Tea is raised as a crop in regions with ample moisture and cool, but mild temperatures year round. Plants are pruned back into a bushy form to best facilitate quick and dense leaf sprouting and also ease of harvesting. The finest teas come from picking only the youngest one to three leaves every 10-14 days, because flavorful tea oils are most concentrated in new leaves, though the caffeine levels are lower.

Like coffee and wine grapes, the flavor of tea varies widely depending on the soils and climate where it is grown. Green, black, white and oolong teas are all derived from Camellia sinensis, but undergo different processing. Green tea is made from fresh leaves, black tea is heavily fermented and oxidized, oolong tea is not as oxidized as black and white tea is uncured, unoxidized and made of the finest new leaves and buds.

Grow tea in nearly full sun to partial shade (important in the afternoon) and average to well-drained, acidic soil that is not clay-rich and heavy. It is tolerant of more winter chill and drought than other camellias but still requires protection from excessive winter cold and hot summer winds. Use it as a slow-growing hedge, foundation or garden specimen or in a container on the patio.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    8 - 5

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    7 - 9

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Partial Sun

  • Height

    10'-50' / 3.0m - 15.2m

  • Width

    10'-30' / 3.0m - 9.1m

  • Bloom Time

    Fall, Late Fall, Early Winter

  • Native To

    China

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Yellow

  • Fruit Color

    Black

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Tan, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Container, Edible, Feature Plant, Foundation, Hedges

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No