Although tea was cultivated for a long time, its classification has been done only recently, that too after many disputes. Initially, all tea plants were placed under one species, Camellia sinensis. The large-leaf Assam tea plants were considered to be a variety of the sinensis species and were included as Var. assamica. However, later the botanists advocated specific rank for the Assam tea plant. Accordingly, two names for two major taxa of tea plants have been assigned as Camellia sinensis for China plant and C. assamica (Masters) for the Assam plant. Masters was the person who for the first time described the Assam plant as a separate type. A third distinct race of tea referred to as “Camodiensis” or “ Southern Form” or “Tran ninh” has been recognised as a sub-species of C. assamica.
Thus, presently three types of tea have been recognised as follows:
i) China tea plant – Camellia sinensis L.
ii) Assam tea plant- Camellia assamica (Masters)
iii) Cambod or Southern form of tea- Camellia assamica sub sp. lasiocalyx (Planch.MS).
This third form of tea resembles to Thea lasiocalyx, a species described by M.S.Planchon as a different type from the species originally named Thea sinensis by Linnaeus.
For your easy understanding, here is the brief description of these three types of tea plants. If you are interested to know in details, you will learn in details hereafter.
Assam Tea Plant
Assam tea plant under natural condition is a small tree which is about 10-15 m tall with a trunk sometimes up to one third of its height. It possesses a robust branch system. In typical plants, the leaf is droopy, thin, glossy or shining with more or less acuminate apex and distinct marginal veins. Leaf blades are usually 8-20 cm long and 3.5 -7.5 cm wide and light green to dark green in colour.
Assam Tea Bush
China Tea plant
It is a big shrub; 1-3 m tall with many virgate stems. Virgate stem meansstraight or slender stem arising from the base of the tree near ground level. The leaf is hard, thick and leathery. The surface is mat (dull surface which is not shining), marginal veins are indistinct. The leaf blades of China tea plants are dark green in colour. Petioles are short, 3-7 mm long, stout, usually giving the leaf an erect pose.
China Tea Bush
Cambod Tea Plant
Cambod tea plant is a small tree 6-10 m tall with more or less equally developed ascending main stems. It is by habit is a fastigate tree. Fastigate means strictly erect and more or less parallel. The leaves of this species of tea plant are more or less erect, glossy, light green in colour, occasionally pigmented with anthocyanin. In size, the leaves are intermediate between China and Assam tea plant leaves.