There are over 80 species of tea plants (Camillia) of which 3 types are commonly grown in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
These 3 varieties are:
- Assam Tea Plants
- China Tea Plants
- Cambod Tea Plants
Assam Tea Plants
Robert Bruce from Scotland is credited for discovering the Assam tea bush in the early 1820’s while visiting Assam in North India.
The leaves of the Assam tea bush (camellia assamica) are large, between 8 to 20 cm long and 3 to 8 cm wide having a dark green color with a glossy shine.
The bush grows to a height of 10 to 15 meters but is pruned and kept at waist level to make it easy for the tea leaves to be picked.
China Tea Plants
The China tea bush (camellia sinensis) has dark green colored glossy leaves but the leaves are much smaller than the Assam variety: 1 ½ to 14 cm in length and 3 ½ to 7 ½ cm wide.
The China tea bush can grow to a height of 1 to 3 meters.
Cambod Tea Plants
The leaves of the Cambod tea bush can be yellow or a light green color. But when autumn sets in the leaves change to a reddish yellow or pinkish red color.
The Cambod tea bush can grow to a height of 6 to 8 meters. The leaves are of an average size.
Seedling Tea Bushes
1839 was the year when tea seeds were first introduced to Sri Lanka from India (Calcutta Botanic Gardens) and planted at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya.
The tea seeds were taken from the Assam variety of tea plants.
It wasn’t until 1867 the first tea plantation was established in Sri Lanka by a tea planter named James Taylor.
His 19 acre tea plantation was situated in Loolecondera Estate in Kandy and the tea bushes were of the seedling variety.
V.P Tea Bushes
Tea plants were raised from seeds until the mid 1950’s. Thereafter tea cloning was introduced.
The newly cloned tea plants were called V.P. tea bushes.
V.P. meaning vegetatively propagated. These clones belonged to the TRI 20 series.
The TRI 20 series included:
- TRI 2025 –plant varieties were grown in up country areas of Sri Lanka.
- TRI 2024 - plants were cultivated in up-country and Uva regions of Sri Lanka.
- TRI 2023 and TRI 2026 – plants were grown in low country areas of Sri Lanka.
The seedling tea bushes were only producing around 800 to 1000 kilos of tea leaves per hectare.
With the introduction of the V.P. tea plants of the TRI 20 series, it was possible to harvest 2000 to 2500 kilos of tea leaves per hectare.
Tea cloning made it possible to get a better quality and a higher yield of tea leaves from the V.P. tea bushes.
The V.P. tea bushes also have a high level of resistance to pests, diseases and drought.
Seedling tea bushes have a taproot which helps to secure the plant to the soil and minimize soil erosion.
V.P. tea bushes are void of a tap root and to reduce soil erosion the V.P tea bushes are grown within contoured terraces and drains. These terraces and drains are constructed using large rocks.
Growing Tea Plants From Seeds
In order to grow healthy seedling plants:
- The fruits which provide the seeds should be mature.
- The seeds should be removed from the fruit within a few days after the fruits have been plucked from the tea bush.
Seeds are sometimes transported to areas far away and therefore have to be packed carefully to prevent the seeds from getting damaged.
A common method used was to pack the seeds in boxes which contain moist powdered charcoal.
If seeds are packed closely together the chances of moisture forming on the seeds are high.
Too much moisture can be harmful to the seeds as it can affect the rate of germination. Because of this seeds were packed in layers and brown paper was used to separate each layer.
There’s always a chance tea seeds may be infected with borer larvae.
To destroy the larvae which may be inside, the seeds are soaked in hot water for half an hour.
Grading Of Tea Seeds
Grading of tea seeds is vital since this helps to separate the weak seeds from the healthy ones.
The seeds are immersed in water and those that float to the surface are considered bad while those that sink are good.
Planting Of Tea Seeds
Tea seeds are first planted in ‘sand beds or sand boxes.’ Before the seeds are sowed it is first soaked in water for 3 to 4 days and then sun dried to crack the seed coat. Pre-soaking and sun-drying the seeds is said to help the seeds germinate faster.
The seeds are planted at a depth of 1.25 cm with a ‘spacing’ of 2.5 cm between each seed.
The seeds began to root after 2 weeks and reach full germination between the 3rd to 4th week. As soon as the ‘radicle’ is about to sprout from the seed, polythene bags are filled with soil and the seeds are transferred from the sand beds/boxes to the bags.
Once the plants reach a height of 20 to 25 cm its transferred from the bags and planted onto the prepared tea land.
Growing Tea Plants From Cuttings
A tea bush has to be over 4 years old and pruned at least once before cuttings can be taken from it.
3 to 4 months must pass before shoots can be used for cuttings from pruned tea bushes situated in the low country and Uva areas. For up country areas 6 to 8 months.
When the cutting is inserted into the polythene bag the soil only covers the cutting up to the axil of the leaf. This ensures the plant will grow straight and erect.
Cuttings are also best planted in a vertical position as this is the ideal direction to absorb the water and fertilizer given to the plant.
The bags are arranged neatly under a tent made of coir matting or black plastic mesh. Bracken fern are inserted into each bag to provide the shade necessary to shield the cuttings from the sun and prevent the soil from getting dried. The coir mat tent and black plastic mesh gives the cuttings adequate sunlight and keeps the air moist to encourage a good growth.
It takes about 6 to 8 weeks for cuttings planted in a tea nursery situated in the low country areas to root. For tea nurseries located in the upcountry areas cuttings usually root within 10 to 12 weeks.
Cuttings are kept in the nursery for 9 to 12 months and then taken to the prepared tea land where it’s planted.
Type and Size of Polythene Bags used for Tea Cuttings
Clear or black polythene are the two types used to grow cuttings and seedlings. Black polythene costs more and is used as it minimizes the formation of moss.
The standard size of a polythene bag used for cuttings is 8 x 6 inches. The bags are made of 150 gauge polythene. About 450 bags can be taken from 1 kilo of 150 gauge polythene.
To prevent water stagnation the bottom end of the bag is left open and holes are made on the sides.
Type of Soil Used To Fill Bags for Tea Cuttings
Roughly 450 cubic feet of soil is needed to fill 6000 polythene bags. Soil which is used to fill bags should be made up of part sand, silt and clay. This type of soil is known as ‘loamy soil.’
The pH of the soil is important. Soil should contain a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. If the soil contains a lower pH dolomite is added to the soil. If it has a higher level of pH, sulfur is used to bring it down. When sulfur is mixed with the soil it is usually kept to rest for 2 ½ to 3 months before the mixture is filled into the bags.
The popular types of soil used to fill bags are:
Guatemala soil: Guatemala plants have been grown in this soil for 1 -2 years. This soil is said to be an ideal ‘rooting medium’ for cuttings.
Patna soil: Mana plants are grown in this soil which makes it a perfect soil to be used to grow cuttings.
Jungle soil: Another soil taken from certain areas of the jungle which is a good ‘rooting medium’ for cuttings.
Sub-soil: This soil is taken from 3-6 feet from the ground. It has to be mixed with equal parts of compost and sand before it can be used.
Before the soil can be used to fill bags it has to be first put through a sieve mesh to remove any rocks, stones, gravel, roots and twigs it may contain.
© 2012 Suranee Perera
Suranee Perera (author) from Kandy, Sri Lanka on November 24, 2013:
Thank you Upul.
Upul on November 24, 2013:
Nice article on varieties of tea plants which is very informative. Thanks
Suranee Perera (author) from Kandy, Sri Lanka on November 08, 2013:
Glad to know you found the article useful. That's really interesting you are involved in setting up a seed nursery. Hope you will let me know where it's located so that I can visit it if I come that way.
Beverly on November 08, 2013:
Thank you for this interesting and informative article. We are busy creating a seed nursery here in Uva, we have been struggling with very lengthy droughts which is why we are propagating from seed.