Are Camellias Your Cup of Tea?

By Gil Medeiros, Fairfax Master Gardener
It’s a trick question. If you drink tea, the answer is yes; you are consuming an extract of Camellia sinensis leaves. If you don’t care about tea but want to improve your landscape, camellias are a good choice — possibly, your cup of tea.

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years in Asia and is the most widely grown species of camellia in the world. In the 1740s, tea-loving English colonists in Georgia tried unsuccessfully to grow their own tea rather than pay for expensive imports. History details many failed attempts to cultivate Camellia sinensis commercially in Georgia, South Carolina, and later in Texas. Incredibly, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the Lipton family was able to develop a successful Camellia sinensis plantation near Charleston, S.C. It is still in production, operated by the Bigelow Tea Company. The 127-acre Charleston Tea Plantation, as it is known today, is open for tours. It is the only commercial producer of black tea in the United States. Needless to say, most of the tea consumed here is harvested on vast plantations in Asia.

Camellia sinensis is an attractive-looking, evergreen shrub with modest flowers. Be advised, however, that it is not a good choice for Nort