what is the life cycle of a tea plant?

Before we really started to nerd out about tea, all we knew was that it all came from the Camellia sinensis plant. That’s the tea plant, we had much that down. But, when we really got into it, we learned that it’s quite comparable to wine. All wine comes from grapes, but there are a LOT of different kinds of grapes. Just like there are a lot of varietals of the tea plant.

Then we started wondering where these plants were native to, how long they live, and really wanted to dig deep into everything about the leaf. All that is too much for one post, so we’ll be breaking it down in our education programming. Today, let’s discuss the life cycle of the tea plant.

 Toshiaki Kinezuka planting a new crop

Toshiaki Kinezuka planting a new crop

When left to grow naturally, in the wild, the tea plant can grow for hundreds or even thousands of years. They are really hardy trees, and when they thrive can live very, very long. You have probably heard about pu’er coming from “ancient tea trees” — these arbor style trees can be upwards of 800 years old. It’s wild, literally and metaphorically.

For commercial purposes, tea plants tend to perform at their peak between 5-40 years. Many farmers, like our Japanese partners in Shizuoka, (pictured above) replant their crops every 40-50 years. When they are replanted, it’s usually through one of two propagation methods: seeds, or cuttings. This is a very similar process to any other crop. It is believed that using cuttings are now the more popular method of propagation.

Many people proclaim massive health benefits and mysterious powers of ancient tea trees. Yunnan is the most famous place in the world for them, where much of the world’s pu’er is produced. These trees have incredible survival genes, being able to endure hundreds of years in the wild. It is believed that the roots of these trees are so complex and advanced, that they pull more (and different) minerals from the bio-diverse soil, increasing the richness of the final tea.