Camellia sinensis (Tea Plant)

Scientific name

Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze

Synonyms

Camellia thea Link; Camellia oleosa (Lour.) Rehder

Common names

White tea, green tea, mchai (Kiswahili)

Family

Theaceae

Origin

South East Asia and China

Naturalised distribution (global)

The editors could not find information on the naturalisation of this species globally.

Introduced, naturalised or invasive in East Africa

Camellia sinensis is grown as a cash crop in plantations at high altitudes in East Africa. In Kenya, it is cultivated in Limuru, Kericho, Mt Kenya among others. In Uganda, tea is grown in Toro, Mubende and  Mengo areas. (Paul Ssegawa, pers.com). In Tanzania, tea plants have been noted to escape from cultivation in areas of Amani, Mt Kilimanjaro and are considered to be invasive in parts of the Usambaras (Cicuzza and Kokotos 2010).

Habitat

Forest edges and gaps at high altitudes in well drained soils.

Description

Camellia sinensis plants are evergreen, medium sized woody shrubs growing to a height of 1.8 m.

Leaves are oval and pointed at the tip; usually 5-10 cm long, shiny, dark green above. Leaf margin finely dentate (serrated).

Flowers are white, fragrant and up to 4 cm diameter, with five petals. The fruit is a 3-angled capsule with three seeds and is surrounded by persistent sepals.

Reproduction and dispersal

Seeds of Camellia sinensis are animal-dispersed.

Economic and other uses

Camellia sinensis is cultivated in many parts of the world for black tea, green tea, white tea etc. It is an important cash crop in East Africa. The wood is used for fuel.

Environmental and other impacts

Camellia sinensis can spread from abandoned plantations into disturbed and undisturbed, natural forest and a logged forest where it can suppress the regeneration of other species. Tea has spread in this way in the Amani Nature Reserve in the East Usambara Mountains of north-eastern Tanzania.

Management

The precise management measures adopted for any plant invasion will depend upon factors such as the terrain, the cost and availability of labour, the severity of the infestation and the presence of other invasive species.

The best form of invasive species management is prevention. If prevention is no longer possible, it is best to treat the weed infestations when they are small to prevent them from establishing (early detection and rapid response). Controlling the weed before it seeds will reduce future problems. Control is generally best applied to the least infested areas before dense infestations are tackled. Consistent follow-up work is required for sustainable management.

The editors could not find any specific information on the management of this species.

Legislation

Not listed as a noxious weed by the state or governments in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

References

Cicuzza, D. and Kokotos, S. (2010). The invasive potential of tea: naturalization and spread of Camellia sinensis in natural and logged forests of the Amani Nature Reserve - www.tropical-biology.org/admin/documents/pdf_files/Tanz_abstracts/1-Daniele%20&%20Stef_Final.pdf

Paul, S., Wachira, F.N., Powell, R. and Waugh, R. (1997). Diversity and genetic differentiation among populations of India and Kenyan tea (Camellia sinensis (L) O. Kuntze) revealed by AFLP markers. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 94: 255-263.

Editors

Agnes Lusweti, National Museums of Kenya; Emily Wabuyele, National Museums of Kenya, Paul Ssegawa, Makerere University; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat - UK.

Acknowledgments

This fact sheet is adapted from The Environmental Weeds of Australia by Sheldon Navie and Steve Adkins, Centre for Biological Information Technology, University of Queensland. We recognise the support from the National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) - Tanzania and Makerere University, Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).

Contact

BioNET-EAFRINET Regional Coordinator: eafrinet@africaonline.co.ke