Camellia sinensis: “tea”

camellia-blooms

This spring I planted several Camellia sinensis var sinensis shrubs from Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina.  I picked them as a source because they were nearby geographically and climate-wise so I hope I would get well-adapted plants.  Their price was also very fair and they have very positive reviews online at sites like Dave’s Garden Watchdog.  I was not disappointed: I received healthy well-rooted plants.  I planted my tiny shrubs and waited.  Imagine my surprise today when I ventured outside after a lovely rain, that they were blooming.

Okay, let’s face it, growing your own tea is not very practical on a suburban lot.  But I was planting shrubs anyway, and it’s better to plant something edible or useful in some way than another generic shrub that there are already 85 of on your street.  So for a section of semi-sunny and wild-sheltered evergreen hedging, I chose tea shrubs.  They are a little borderline in north Alabama, but the nursery I purchased from is in the same climate zone.

With Camellia sinensis, you can produce black tea, green tea, or white tea: they all come from the same plant.  It can be rolled and dried for later, and indeed there is an entire industry that rolls tea leaves in shapes and figures from whimsical to elegant.  Like many other plants we consume in small quantities, tea has numerous health benefits including working as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and possibly even mitigates asthma.  Most of us, however, drink it because it tastes good and acts as a stimulant.

When fully mature, I expect be able to harvest a pound of leaves annually from my plants, which might barely cover my rather modest tea consumption.  However, good quality loose tea retails from anywhere from about $30-150 per pound, so even at the lowest pricing I will cover my costs in 2 pounds of tea.  If the plants do well here, I may be able to recoup some costs by rooting cuttings for sale or trade.  I expect the plants to be big enough to support some harvest by summer 2015, which is still a long time to wait.

Nonetheless, even though I hope to see a positive return on my investment eventually, growing your own tea is really not cost effective.

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