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Plants from the Ground Up

Grow your own tea! Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis flower

I like to have plants in my garden that are not only beautiful, but also useful. Camellia sinensis fits that ideal perfectly. Tea is a lovely evergreen shrub or small tree with large, glossy green leaves that have a serrated edge. Showy and sweetly scented white flowers have gorgeous bright yellow-orange stamens and turn into interesting green fruits before ripening into dark brown seeds pods. They are one of the most elegant plants for specimen and they could also be used as a fine hedge. A hedge would be especially useful for a person wanting to produce enough leaves to make their own tea.

Camellia sinensis seed

Native to East, South and Southeast Asia, tea has been produced in China for over 3,000 years. Tea is the most economically important non-alcoholic drink in the world. Camellia sinensis plantations are generally grown at the higher elevations of its range since the cooler temperatures cause the plant to grow more slowly allowing for a higher quality tea. Only the very top new growth is used and it is all hand harvested. Older leaves make for poor quality tea. The tea plants are sheared at waist level to facilitate picking and are usually harvest five times per year. This intensive harvesting does not allow the plant to ever bloom. Fresh tea leaves contain 4% caffeine. Not only useful as a beverage, the seeds are pressed to extract a high quality oil that is used in the textile industry. The Chinese have long used tea for treating asthma and other vascular and coronary diseases.

Camellia sinensis is an easily grown garden plant. It can tolerate a wide range of soil types as long as it has adequate moisture. It thrives in sun to part shade, afternoon shade is best in hotter climes. Hardy to USDA zones 7-9. White tea is the least processed and easiest for home tea making; the leaves are simply harvested and dried before brewing. If you would like to make green or black tea here is an interesting link from the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

Camellia sinensis was named by Linnaeus to honor the Czech born Jesuit Georg Kamel for his contributions to botany.

For more photos and available sizes, see Camellia sinensis at the Forestfarm Store.

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