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Camellia sinensis is a species of evergreen shrub or small tree whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. It is of the genus Camellia (Chinese: 茶花; pinyin: Cháhuā, literally: "tea flower") of flowering plants in the family Theaceae. Common names include "tea plant", "tea shrub", and "tea tree" (not to be confused with Melaleuca alternifolia, the source of tea tree oil, or Leptospermum scoparium, the New Zealand Tea Tree).

Camellia sinensis
Tea Bud.jpg
Camellia sinensis foliage
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Theaceae
Genus: Camellia
C. sinensis
Binomial name
Camellia sinensis
  • Camellia angustifolia Hung T. Chang
  • Camellia arborescens Hung T. Chang & F. L. Yu
  • Camellia assamica (J. W. Masters) Hung T. Chang
  • Camellia dehungensis Hung T. Chang & B. H. Chen
  • Camellia dishiensis F. C. Zhang et al.
  • Camellia longlingensis F. C. Zhang et al.
  • Camellia multisepala Hung T. Chang & Y. J. Tang
  • Camellia oleosa (Loureiro) Rehder
  • Camellia parvisepala Hung T. Chang.
  • Camellia parvisepaloides Hung T. Chang & H. S. Wang.
  • Camellia polyneura Hung T. Chang &
  • Camellia thea Link
  • Camellia theifera Griffith
  • Camellia waldeniae S. Y. Hu
  • Thea assamica J. W. Masters
  • Thea bohea L.
  • Thea cantonensis Loureiro
  • Thea chinensis Sims
  • Thea cochinchinensis Loureiro
  • Thea grandifolia Salisbury
  • Thea olearia Loureiro ex Gomes
  • Thea oleosa Loureiro
  • Thea parvifolia Salisbury (1796), not Hayata (1913)
  • Thea sinensis L.
  • Thea viridis L.
  • Theaphylla cantonensis (Loureiro) Rafinesque

Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica, are two major varieties grown today.[2] White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, dark tea (which includes pu-erh tea) and black tea are all harvested from one or the other, but are processed differently to attain varying levels of oxidation. Kukicha (twig tea) is also harvested from Camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves.


Nomenclature and taxonomyEdit

The name Camellia is taken from the Latinized name of Rev. Georg Kamel,[3] SJ (1661–1706), a Moravian-born Jesuit lay brother, pharmacist, and missionary to the Philippines.

Carl Linnaeus chose his name in 1753 for the genus to honor Kamel's contributions to botany[4] (although Kamel did not discover or name this plant, or any Camellia,[5] and Linnaeus did not consider this plant a Camellia but a Thea).[6]

Robert Sweet shifted all formerly Thea species to the genus Camellia in 1818.[7] The name sinensis means "from China" in Latin.

Four varieties of Camellia sinensis are recognized.[1] Of these, C. sinensis var. sinensis and C. sinensis var. assamica (JW Masters) Kitamura are most commonly used for tea, and C. sinensis var. pubilimba Hung T. Chang and C. sinensis var. dehungensis (Hung T. Chang & BH Chen) TL Ming are sometimes used locally.[1]


There are hundreds,[8] if not thousands of cultivars of C. sinensis. Some Japanese cultivars include:


Camellia sinensis is native to East Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, but it is today cultivated across the world in tropical and subtropical regions.

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is usually trimmed to below 2 m (6.6 ft) when cultivated for its leaves. It has a strong taproot. The flowers are yellow-white, 2.5–4 cm (0.98–1.57 in) in diameter, with 7 to 8 petals.

Flower of tea plant

The seeds of Camellia sinensis and Camellia oleifera can be pressed to yield tea oil, a sweetish seasoning and cooking oil that should not be confused with tea tree oil, an essential oil that is used for medical and cosmetic purposes, and originates from the leaves of a different plant.

Camellia sinensis plant, with cross-section of the flower (lower left) and seeds (lower right)
Camellia sinensis - MHNT

The leaves are 4–15 cm (1.6–5.9 in) long and 2–5 cm (0.79–1.97 in) broad. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffeine, as well as related compounds including theobromine.[11] The young, light-green leaves are preferably harvested for tea production; they have short white hairs on the underside. Older leaves are deeper green. Different leaf ages produce differing tea qualities, since their chemical compositions are different. Usually, the tip (bud) and the first two to three leaves are harvested for processing. This hand picking is repeated every one to two weeks.

In 2017 Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of Camellia sinensis var. assamica .[12] It contains about three-billion base pairs which was larger than most plants previously sequenced.[13]


Camellia sinensis is mainly cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates, in areas with at least 127 cm (50 inches) of rainfall a year. Tea plants prefer a rich and moist growing location in full to part sun, and can be grown in hardiness zones 7 – 9. However, the clonal one is commercially cultivated from the equator to as far north as Cornwall and Scotland on the UK mainland.[14][15] Many high quality teas are grown at high elevations, up to 1,500 meters (4,900 feet), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire more flavour.

Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking. Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved Chinese variety plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the large-leaved Assamese plant (C. sinensis assamica), used mainly for black tea.

Chinese teasEdit

The Chinese plant (sometimes called C. sinensis var. sinensis) is a small-leafed bush with multiple stems that reaches a height of some 3 meters. It is native to southeast China. The first tea plant to be discovered, recorded and used to produce tea dates back 3,000 years ago, it yields some of the most popular teas.

C. sinensis var. waldenae was considered a different species, Camellia waldenae by SY Hu,[16] but it was later identified as a variety of C. sinensis.[17] This variety is commonly called Waldenae Camellia. It is seen on Sunset Peak and Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong. It is also distributed in Guangxi province, China.[16]

Indian and Nepali teasEdit

Three main kinds of tea are produced in India:

  • Assam comes from the heavily forested northeastern section of the country, Assam. Tea from here is rich and full-bodied. It was in Assam that the first tea estate of India was established, in 1837.
  • Darjeeling, from the cool and wet Darjeeling region, tucked in the foothills of the Himalayas. Tea plantations reach 2,200 metres. The tea is delicately flavoured, and considered to be one of the finest teas in the world. The Darjeeling plantations have 3 distinct harvests, termed 'flushes', and the tea produced from each flush has a unique flavour. First (spring) flush teas are light and aromatic, while the second (summer) flush produces tea with a bit more bite. The third, or autumn flush gives a tea that is lesser in quality.

Nepali tea is also considered to be similar to the tea produced in Darjeeling, mostly because the eastern part of Nepal, where a large amount of tea is produced, has similar topography to that of Darjeeling.

  • Nilgiri, from a southern region of India almost as high as Darjeeling. Grown at elevations between 1,000 and 2,500 metres, Nilgiri teas are subtle and rather gentle, and are frequently blended with other, more robust teas.[citation needed]
Seed-bearing fruit of Camellia sinensis

Pests and diseasesEdit

Tea leaves are eaten by some herbivores, like the caterpillars of the willow beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria), a geometer moth.

Health effectsEdit

Although health benefits have been assumed throughout the history of using Camellia sinensis as a common beverage, there is no high-quality evidence that tea confers significant benefits.[18][19] In clinical research over the early 21st century, tea has been studied extensively for its potential to lower the risk of human diseases, but none of this research is conclusive as of 2017.[18]

Biosynthesis of caffeineEdit

Caffeine is a molecule produced in Camellia sinensis which functions as a secondary metabolite. Caffeine is a purine alkaloid and its biosynthesis occurs in young tea leaves and is regulated by several enzymes.[20][21] The biosynthetic pathway in C. sinensis differs from other caffeine producing plants such as coffee or guayusa. Analysis of the pathway was carried out by harvesting young leaves and using reverse transcription PCR to analyze the genes encoding the major enzymes involved in synthesizing caffeine. The gene TCS1 encodes caffeine synthase. Younger leaves feature high concentrations of TCS1 transcripts, allowing more caffeine to be synthesized during this time. Dephosphorylation of xanthosine-5'-monophosphate into xanthosine is the committed step for the xanthosines entering the beginning of the most common pathway. A sequence of reactions turns xanthosine into 7-methylxanthosine, then 7-methylxanthine, then theobromine, and finally into caffeine.

Biochemical pathway detailing caffeine synthesis in Camellia sinensis.

See alsoEdit

Primary green tea catechinsEdit


  1. ^ a b c Min T, Bartholomew B. "18. Theaceae". Flora of China. 12.
  2. ^ ITIS Standard Report Page Camellia Sinensis retrieved 2009-03-28.
  3. ^ Stafleu FA, Cowan RS (1976–88). Taxonomic literature: A selective guide to botanical publications and collections with dates, commentaries and types (2nd ed.). Utrecht: Bohn, Scheltema and Holkema.
  4. ^ "Botanics", History of Tea, 10 August 2003, Georg Jeoseph Kamel, whose name in Latin was Camellus was missionary to the Philippines, died in Manilla in 1706. […] Camellias were named in posthumous honor of George Joseph Kamel by Carolus Linnæus.
  5. ^ "Botanics", History of Tea, 10 August 2003, It is speculated that he never saw a camellia.
  6. ^ Golender L (10 August 2003), "Botanics", History of Tea, The first edition of Linnaeus's Species Plantarum published in 1753 suggested calling the tea plant Thea sinensis...
  7. ^ International Association for Plant Taxonomy (2006), "Article 13, example 3", International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (Vienna Code) (electronic ed.), The generic names Thea L. (Sp. Pl.: 515. 24 Mai 1753), and Camellia L. (Sp. Pl.: 698. 16 August 1753; Gen. Pl., ed. 5: 311. 1754), are treated as having been published simultaneously on 1 May 1753. … the combined genus bears the name Camellia, since Sweet (Hort. Suburb. Lond.: 157. 1818), who was the first to unite the two genera, chose that name, and cited Thea as a synonym.
  8. ^ "Tea Cultivar Database - World of Tea". World of Tea. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Identification of Japanese tea (Camellia sinensis) cultivars using SSR marker". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Varietal differences in the adaptability of tea [Camellia sinensis] cultivars to light nitrogen application". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Camellia sinensis". Purdue. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  12. ^ Xia EH, Zhang HB, Sheng J, Li K, Zhang QJ, Kim C, et al. (June 2017). "The Tea Tree Genome Provides Insights into Tea Flavor and Independent Evolution of Caffeine Biosynthesis". Molecular Plant. 10 (6): 866–877. doi:10.1016/j.molp.2017.04.002. PMID 28473262.
  13. ^ Briggs, Helen (2 May 2017). "Secrets of tea plant revealed by science". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  14. ^ "Tea", Gardening, Telegraph Online, 17 September 2005.
  15. ^ "Tea", The world's first Scottish tea, The Independent, 17 November 2014.
  16. ^ a b The International Camellia Society (ICS), DE: Uniklinik Sårland, archived from the original on 21 August 2006
  17. ^ Ming TL (1992). "A revision of Camellia sect. Thea". Acta Botanica Yunnanica (in Chinese). 14 (2): 115–32..
  18. ^ a b "Black tea". MedlinePlus, US National Library of Medicine. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Green tea". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US National Institutes of Health. 30 November 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  20. ^ Li Y, Ogita S, Keya CA, Ashihara H (March 2008). "Expression of caffeine biosynthesis genes in tea (Camellia sinensis)". Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C. 63 (3–4): 267–70. PMID 18533472.
  21. ^ Kato M, Mizuno K, Fujimura T, Iwama M, Irie M, Crozier A, Ashihara H (June 1999). "Purification and characterization of caffeine synthase from tea leaves". Plant Physiology. 120 (2): 579–86. PMC 59297. PMID 10364410.
  22. ^ Pizzorno JE, Murray MT, eds. (2012). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. p. 628. ISBN 978-1-4377-2333-5.

External linksEdit