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The Tea Plant - Camellia Sinensis

by Nick Dutta |

It's true that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Typically plants are classified hierarchically by their division, class, subclass, order, family, genus, and species. They are also classified by variety and cultivar when necessary. Here’s how the tea plant shakes out:


Division -> Magnoliophyta
Class -> Magnoliopsida
Subclass -> Dilleniidae
Order -> Theales
Family -> Theaceae
Genus -> Camellia
Species -> Sinensis

As we are only be dealing with the varieties and cultivars of the genus Camellia and the species sinensis we’ll leave out the higher level classifications. When notating plant names, there is a standard nomenclature (structure) we’ll use: Genus species var. variety ‘Cultivar’

Here is an example of a popular Japanese cultivar called Yabukita: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ‘Yabukita’. Breaking it down our, the genus is Camellia, the species is sinensis, the variety is sinensis, and the cultivar is Yabukita.

Here is another example from India: Camellia sinensis var. assamica Bannockburn 157. Once again the genus is Camellia, the species is sinensis, the variety is assamica, and the cultivar is Bannockburn 157.

Cultivars, the contraction of the term “cultivated variety,” are tea plants created through hybridization or mutation of the plant species. This is often done to create a plant that is more ideal for the growing conditions of a specific region I.E. soil, climate, and altitude. This is why we sometimes see a variety and a cultivar listed for tea plants — when a plant exhibits variation within a variety and is cultivated to maintain this variation, we end up with both a variety and a cultivar.

Cultivar -> Loads of different types
Variety -> Sinensis or Assamica or Cambodian
Species -> Sinensis
Genus -> Camellia

To keep it simple varieties are found naturally in the world, once we propagate them for their variance, they become cultivars.

Now let us have a look at three main varieties.

 


Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis: This sturdy variety is more resistant to cold temperatures, making it ideal for high altitude gardens and regions with more challenging climate conditions, such as China and Japan. The tree can grow up to 20 feet in height and can produce quality tea for upwards of 100 years. Recent research has shown strong evidence that this variety was originally cultivated from var. Assamica. Through migration to northern tea growing regions and years of human intervention in China, var. Assamica evolved, developing smaller, more delicate leaves and eventually becoming what is known today as Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis. It is grown in many tea producing counties including China, Japan, Taiwan, Nepal, and India.

 

Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica: Once believed to be native to the Assam region in the northeast of India, recent research has pointed to Southeast Asia, in the border regions between Myanmar, Laos, and China. Assamica thrives in a more tropical environment with plenty of rainfall. Left to grow they can reach heights of 90 feet. Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica is found mainly in India, Africa, and Sri Lanka.

 

Camellia Sinensis var. Cambodian: Native to Cambodia, this variety is most commonly used for the creation of new cultivars, through hybridization. It is not used on its own for commercial tea production.

To learn more about cultivars check out the following: