Biodiversity Science ›› 2018, Vol. 26 ›› Issue (4): 357-372.doi: 10.17520/biods.2018006

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Domestication origin and spread of cultivated tea plants

Wenju Zhang1, *(), Jun Rong2, Chaoling Wei3, Lianming Gao4, Jiakuan Chen1, 2   

  1. 1 Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, Fudan University, Shanghai 200438
    2 Center for Watershed Ecology, Institute of Life Science, Nanchang University and School of Life Sciences, Nanchang University, Nanchang 330031
    3 State Key Laboratory of Tea Plant Biology and Utilization, Anhui Agricultural University, Hefei 230036
    4 Key Laboratory for Plant Diversity and Biogeography of East Asia, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650201
  • Received:2018-01-08 Accepted:2018-03-01 Online:2018-09-11
  • Zhang Wenju
  • About author:

    # Co-first authors

Tea is the most popular non-alcoholic beverage in the world. The domestication origin of cultivated tea plants has always been a focus of ecological research. This article summarizes the recent research progress, discusses remaining questions and makes suggestions for future research directions. Many wild relatives of cultivated tea plants are distributed in the Yangtze River Basin and its southern reaches, particularly in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi provinces. The pronunciation of “cha” is similar in the languages of southern ethnic groups, implying a single domestication origin of cultivated tea plants, most likely from ancient Bashu or Yunnan. However, studies on genetic structure reveal that multiple centers occur in the domestication origin of cultivated tea plants. For example, cultivated Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze, including some varieties, may have multiple domestication events. According to research from historical text, the cultivation center of tea plants migrated from west to east and then to south, which is supported by changes in genetic diversity. However, the first cultivated tea plant might have arisen in the most eastern region of the Yangtze River Basin based on a recent archaeological finding. We speculate that during the spread of tea knowledge, cultivated varieties introgression occurred from wild relatives to cultivars, or new cultivated tea plants were directly domesticated from local wild tea plants, leading to the genetic complexity and the language consistency of cultivated tea plants. More evidence is needed to confirm the ancestral types, origin sites and time, and domestication processes of cultivated tea plants, and the integration anaylysis of multiple disciplines such as tea culture, population genetics, phylogeography, anthropology, climate change, and archaeology should be more encouraged.

Key words: cultivated tea plant, Sect. Thea, domestication origin, tea culture, genetic diversity

Table 1

Taxonomy and cultivation of Sect. Thea"

Species & variety
Type locality
1. 大厂茶 Camellia tachangensis Zhang 云南师宗 Shizong, Yunnan, China W
1a 大厂茶 var. tachangensis F. C. Zhang 云南师宗 Shizong, Yunnan, China W
C. qunquelocularis Chang 广西隆林 Longlin, Guangxi, China -
C. tetracocca Chang 贵州普安 Pu’an, Guizhou, China -
1b 梳齿茶 var. remotiserrata (Chang et B. H. Wang) Ming 云南威信 Weixin, Yunnan, China W
C. remotiserrata Chang, F. L. Yu et P. S. Wang 云南威信 Weixin, Yunnan, China -
C. jymnogynoides Chang, F. L. Yu et P. S. Wang 云南盐津 Yanjin, Yunnan, China -
C. nanchuanica Chang et Xiong 重庆南川 Nanchuan, Chongqing, China -
C. jingyunshanica Chang et J. H. Xiong 重庆北碚 Beibei, Chongqing, China -
2. 大苞茶 Camellia grandibracteata Chang et Yu 云南云县 Yunxian, Yunnan, China C
3. 广西茶 Camellia kwangsiensis Chang 广西田林 Tianlin, Guangxi, China W
3a 广西茶 var. kwangsiensis Chang 广西田林 Tianlin, Guangxi, China W
3b 广南茶 var. kwangnanica (Chang et Chen) Ming 云南广南 Guangnan, Yunnan, China W
4. 大理茶 Camellia taliensis (W. W. Smith) Melch 云南大理 Dali, Yunnan, China W & C
C. changningensis F. C. Zhang, W. R. Ding et Y. Huang 云南昌宁 Changning, Yunnan, China -
C. irrawadiensis Burua 缅甸依洛瓦底 Irrawaddy, Burma -
C. pentastyla Chang 云南凤庆 Fengqing, Yunnan, China -
C. quinquebracteata Chang & C. X. Ye 云南梁河 Lianghe, Yunnan, China -
Polyspora yunnanensis Hu 云南潞西 Luxi, Yunnan, China -
Gordonia yunnanensis (Hu) H. L. Li 云南潞西 Luxi, Yunnan, China -
5. 厚轴茶 Camellia crassicolumna Chang 云南西畴 Xichou, Yunnan, China W
5a 厚轴茶 var. crassicolumna (C. B. Clarke) Ridley 云南西畴 Xichou, Yunnan, China W
C. atrothea Chang & H. S. Wang 云南屏边 Pingbian, Yunnan, China -
C. crassicolumna var. shangbaensis F. C. Zhang 云南镇元 Zhenyuan, Yunnan, China -
C. crispula Chang 云南金平 Jinping, Yunnan, China -
C. haaniensis Chang & F. L. Yu 云南金平 Jinping, Yunnan, China -
C. makuanica Chang & Y. J. Tang 云南马关 Maguan, Yunnan, China -
C. purpurea Chang & B. H. Chen 云南屏边 Pingbian, Yunnan, China -
C. rotundata Chang & F. L. Yu 云南红河 Honghe, Yunnan, China -
5b 多萼茶 var. multiplex (Chang & Y. J. Tang) Ming 云南文山 Wenshan, Yunnan, China W
6. 老挝茶 Camellia sealyama Ming 老挝沙拉湾省 Salavan, Laos U
7. 秃房茶 Camellia gymnogyna Chang 广西凌云 Lingyun, Guangxi, China W
C. glaberrima Chang 云南屏边 Pingbian, Yunnan, China -
8. 突肋茶 Camellia costata Hu et S.Y.Liang 广西昭平 Zhaoping, Guangxi, China W
C. danzaiensis K. M. Lan 贵州丹寨 Danzhai, Guizhou, China -
C. kwangtungensis Chang 广东阳山 Yangshan, Guangdong, China -
C. yungkiangensis Chang 贵州榕江 Rongjiang, Guizhou, China -
9. 膜叶茶 Camellia leptophylla S. Y. Liang et Chang 广西龙州 Longzhou, Guangxi, China W
10. 防城茶 Camellia fengchengensis Liang et Zhong 广西防城 Fangcheng, Guangxi, China W
11. 毛叶茶 Camellia ptilophylla Chang 广东龙门 Longmen, Guangdong, China W & C
C. pubescens Chang et C. X. Ye 湖南汝城 Rucheng, Hunan, China -
12. 茶 Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze 中国福建 Fujian, China W & C
12a 茶(小叶茶) var. sinensis (C. B. Clarke) Ridley 中国福建 Fujian, China W & C
Species & variety
Type locality
Thea sinensis L. 中国福建 Fujian, China -
C. arborescens Chang & F. L. Yu 云南威信 Weixin, Yunnan, China -
C. longlingensis F. C. Zhang et al 云南龙陵 Longling, Yunnan, China -
C. oleosa (Loureiro) Rehder 未知 Unknow -
C. sinensis f. formosensis Kitamura 中国台湾 Taiwan, China -
C. waldeniae S. Y. Hu 中国香港 Hong Kong, China -
C. thea Link 未知 Unknow -
T. bohea L. 福建武夷 Wuyi, Fujian, China -
T. cantonensis Loureiro 未知 Unknow -
T. chinensis Sims 未知 Unknow -
T. cochinchinensis Loureiro 未知 Unknow -
T. grandifolia Salisbury 未知 Unknow -
T. olearia Loureiro ex Gomes 未知 Unknow -
T. oleosa Loureiro 未知 Unknow -
T. parvifolia Salisbury, not Hayata 未知 Unknow -
T. sinensis var. macrophylla Siebold 台湾 Taiwan -
T. sinensis var. parvifolia Miquel 未知 Unknow -
T. viridis L 未知 Unknow -
Theaphylla cantonensis (Loureiro) Rafinesque 未知 Unknow -
12b 大叶茶 var. assamica (Masters) Kitamura 印度阿萨姆 Assam, India W & C
Thea assamica Masters 印度阿萨姆 Assam, India W & C
C. multisepala Chang & Y. J. Tang 云南勐腊 Mengla, Yunnan, China -
C. polyneura Chang & Y. J. Tang 云南绿春 Lüchun, Yunnan, China -
C. sinensis var. kucha Chang & H. S. Wang 云南金平 Jinping, Yunnan, China -
12c 德宏茶 var. dehungensis (Chang & B. H. Chen) Ming 云南德宏 Dehong, Yunnan, China W & C
C. dehungensis Chang & B. H. Chen 云南德宏 Dehong, Yunnan, China -
C. manglaensis Chang, Tan et wang 云南勐腊 Mengla, Yunnan, China -
C. parvisepaloides Chang & H. S. Wang 云南潞西 Luxi, Yunnan, China -
C. gymnogynoides Chang et Chen 云南勐腊 Mengla, Yunnan, China -
12d 白毛茶 var. pubilimba Chang 广西凌云 Lingyun, Guangxi, China W & C
C. angustifolia Chang 广西金秀 Jinxiu, Guangxi, China -
C. dishiensis F. C. Zhang, X. Y. Chen et G. B. Chen 云南广南 Guangnan, Yunnan, China -
C. parvisepala Chang 广西凌云 Lingyun, Guangxi, China -
12e 高棉茶 var. lasiocalyx (G. Watt) A.P. Das & C. Ghosh** 柬埔寨 Cambodia C

Table 2

List of studies on genetic diversity of cultivated tea and its wild related species"

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