Tea World

Lesson 5

The Evolution of Tea’s Scientific Name

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How does Camellia sinensis become the name?

The scientific name of the tea plant is Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze. That means all plants from which tea is made are described by this name. You all know that the common names of plants often vary from region to region, which is why most plant encyclopedias refer to plants using their scientific names, in other words using binomials or "Latin" names. Scientific names follow a specific set of rules. Scientists use a two-name system called a Binomial Naming System. They name plants using the system that describes the genus and species of the plant. The first word is the genus and the second is the species.

How does the scientific name of tea plant become Camellia sinensis?

It has a long history. Tea's scientific name has been changed multiple times since its first use. The first name of tea plant was given by Linnaeus in1753 as Thea sinensis and it was published in the First volume of his famous book “Species Planterum”. He typified this name for China tea based on some drawings drawn by Kaempfer. Kaempfer was a surgeon of the Dutch East India Company stationed in Japan who drew these drawings of tea plant in 1712, but without collecting the specimen. However, in 1762, Linnaeus again distinguished two kinds of tea and named them Thea viridis and Thea bohea.The former was supposed to produce green tea and the later black tea. The specific name sinensis was dropped. But when it was found that both black and green tea could be made from the same plant, the name Thea viridis was dropped, retaining the name Thea bohea for the tea plant.

This started a kind of confusion and the botanists of different countries were found to use different names, some eleven different names, for the tea plant like Thea sinensis, Camellia thea etc. However,   the Botanical Congress in its session held in Amsterdam in 1935, decided to unite the two genera Thea and Camellia into a single genus, Camellia and under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, the name of the plant wasassigned as Camellia sinensis (L). Technically, Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze is the full name of the tea plant, since it gives reorganization to the authority responsible for the union of the old name sinensis with the new genus Camellia.

In the name, Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze, the L. indicates that Linnaeus who first published the epithet sinensis and O.Kuntze indicates that this botanist was the first to combine, in a publication of 1881, the two generic names. The generic name Camellia was derived from Kamel, George Joseph Kamel, a German missionary stationed in the Phillipines, who wrote about plants, found in Asia during the latter half of 17th century.

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