Upstate South Carolina Tea Discovery


Exit to Spartanburg Community College off Business I-85. Tea plants are on the far side of the right hand bearm for the over pass seen in the distance

The staff headed to upstate South Carolina last weekend for a family get together. It was nice to be with family we had not been able to see in person since the start of the pandemic. Great time to catch up and hear about the various projects people had taken up over the past year. One member of our group is a horticulturalist who has been working with several species of plants – including tea plants. He pointed us to tea plants set out at Spartanburg Community College including plants set out as part of the landscaping for the highway exit to the college. A slight detour on our drive home allowed us to check out the plants.

The plants are derived from material obtained from the wholesale nursery Cam Too Camellia Nursery in Greensboro, NC. The plants appear to be the “small leaf variety,” presumably Camellia sinensis sinensis although the web site does give the Latin name. These are the type grown in less hot, higher latitude regions of China, Taiwan and Japan as opposed to the larger leaf varieties of India and southwestern China named Camellia sinensis assamica. Spartanburg can get quite hot in the summer. That coupled with the tea plant’s typical place as an under story plant makes it surprising to see them thrive in such an exposed area. The plants were set out in 2015. They seem to be fine.

We did find seedlings growing under the shade of one of the larger bushes. A gentle tug liberated one of them. It was protected for our short drive home and then it was set out with our seedlings from low country South Carolina tea seeds. The Spartanburg plant had suffered from sun scald, with brown spots on the leaves. It has since dropped about all of it leaves. Probably not the best time (or method) to move plants. Time will tell. We might need to make another trip in the fall to pick up a few more.

We did notice that several of the plants had large numbers of seeds and so a fall visit should give access to numerous seeds to experiment with.

This plant is about 6 feet high

Tea bushes in the foreground with the College water tower in the back

Second view: Tea plants in the forground

Click on this image to enlarge – the plant has numerous seed pods. These will open in late September and October (not too sure of the timing as it is hotter in SC and seed pod opening might occur earlier then we see here in the mountains)