09/01/2013 - 12/31/2013
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Camellia sinensis Tea Camellia
Botanical Name: Camellia sinenensis
Attributes: Camellia sinensis, or Tea Camellia, is an evergreen shrub is native to China. The Tea Camellia belongs to Theaceae, or Tea family. It is hardy in Zones 6 through 9 and grows to at least ten feet high at maturity. It grows well in shade, likes well drained soil and blooms reliably September through Early December. Drought tolerant once established; this plant proves tolerant to the flood seasons of the Mississippi Flood Plain as well. It needs a neutral to slightly acidic soil. The waxy, serrate, alternate leaves grow to be about two to four inches long. The flowers have seven to eight petals. They are typically white but there are many cultivars, some having pink flowers. The petals of this flower tend to curve away from the center, providing easy access to larger pollinators such as the honey bee. Fruit first appears on this shrub the year following the first flowering. It is a round capsule slightly smaller than an acorn and contains one or two seeds. These capsules become very hard when dry enough to drop from the tree. Propagation can be done by hardwood cuttings or with seeds. The seeds should be soaked in warm water for 24 hours before planting. Seedlings sometimes germinate from seeds that have dropped to the ground. The leaves of Camellia sinensis are used to make tea. This tea is used medicinally and also for its caffeine content.
Pruning/care: The best time to prune this shrub is late winter when it is finished flowering but still dormant. Very little pruning is necessary, the tea camellia has a beautiful form when left to its natural growth habit. A slow release organic fertilizer such as cottonseed meal is an excellent choice for this plant. An iron supplement can be used to help the leaves keep their dark green color. Liquid kelp is also an excellent choice. Fertilizing should be done in the spring and fall.
Where to view it: Quite a few tea camellias can be seen here at Memphis Botanic Garden in the Pine Grove. These are around fifty years old. These are some of the only camellias at MBG that survived severe freezing temperatures in 1989.
Landscape value: Camellia sinensis is perfect for group plantings in the shade.
By Dallas Holland Memphis Botanic Garden Horticulture Assistant