English black Tea, a blend of Assam, Java, and Ceylon tea leaves
What plant do you get tea from?

If you are English then you are likely to have a strong emotional (and possibly addictive) relationship with tea. However besides from knowing that tea is made from an infusion of processed tea leaves then it is also likely that you will not know from which plant the tea leaves are from.

Botanical illustration of Camellia sinensis, the tea plant.
What plant do you get tea from?
The origins of tea date back so far into history that it is impossible to say when it was first drunk but records show that it was originally taken as a medicinal beverage in Southwest China approximately 3000 years ago, prior to it first becoming popular as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 - 907). Tea came to the attention of the English during the 17th century after being brought back to Europe in the 16th Century by Portuguese merchants.

The plant from which you get tea is called camellia sinensis, the genus name of which will be familiar to most gardeners. The traditional Chinese name for Camellia literally means 'Tea flower', while the wester name is in honour of Rev. Georg Kamel (1661–1706), pharmacist, and missionary to the Philippines and who incidentally did not discover or name this plant, or any other Camellia species. The species name 'sinensis' is Latin for 'from China'.

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub with broad, glossy leaves. The young leaves emerge light green in colour, darkening as they mature. Under cultivation tea plants are usually kept at a height of approximately 1.5-2 metres to make it easy to pick the fresh leaf tips. When picked for tea production only the top 2–5 centimeters of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are known as 'flushes'. A tea plant will typically grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season in subtropical to tropical climates.

When left to its own devices you can expect a mature tea plant to reach a height of 16 metres. Unfortunately it is only considered to be half hardy and cannot be grown outside in England without winter protection.

Main image credit - Selena N. B. H. from Fayetteville, USA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
In text image - By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen - List of Koehler Images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=255290


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