Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #410

PAL Question

I am interested in growing tea plants. In particular, I am interested in these: Cyclopia intermedia (honeybush), Aspalathus linearis (rooibos), and Citrus aurantium (bergamot). Also, do you know which local nurseries might sell these plants?


For the first two plants, I consulted Cape Plants by Peter Goldblatt and John Manning (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2000). Cyclopia intermedia and other Cyclopia species (Honeybush) grow in southeast and southwest Africa in what is called "mountain fynbos" regions. The climate is similar to that of Mediterranean areas, so if your climate has wet winters and dry summers, there is a chance you may be able to grow this plant. The South African Honeybush Tea Association has more information about this plant as a source of tea.

Aspalathus linearis, or Rooibos, is found in South Africa from the Bokkeveld Mountains to the Cape Peninsula. The website PlantzAfrica has information about it that suggests it is not often grown in home gardens: "This is thought to be due to the difficulty in propagation by seed or root cuttings and in providing the optimal growing conditions for the plants. In order to grow Aspalathus linearis successfully, seeds must first be scarified and then planted in acid, sandy soils." The Plants for a Future Database suggests that this plant would not grow with much success in a colder, wet winter climate.

The bergamot which is used to flavor Earl Grey tea goes by the botanical names Citrus aurantium, C. aurantium subspecies or variety bergamia, and Citrus bergamia. According to Purdue University's New Crops web page, this tree is a native of Southeast Asia: "The sour orange flourishes in subtropical, near-tropical climates, yet it can stand several degrees of frost for short periods. Generally it has considerable tolerance of adverse conditions. But the Bergamot orange is very sensitive to wind and extremes of drought or moisture." See also the following from University of California, Riverside's Citrus Variety pages. The tree grows well in Italy and North Africa, but it may not do very well in the Pacific Northwest.

Of these three plants, the only one for which I found a nursery source (in California, not locally) on Plant Information Online was the bergamot Citrus. You may want to call your favorite local nurseries to ask if they ever carry this plant, but I suspect that most will not, as it is not likely to succeed in our climate. You might have better luck growing familiar herbs like chamomile and mint which can be used for tea. You could also make green, black, and oolong tea from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a plant which will thrive here in Seattle, and should not be too difficult to find. According to Keith Possee, who manages the UW Medicinal Herb Garden, offers the following advice:
"The trick is to pick only two leaves and a bud in the spring flush of growth. If we lived in the tropics, home tea growers could be picking tea most or all of the year, but 48 degrees north latitude is not ideal." The most important step to learn is how to roll the leaves. Keith recommends this University of Hawaii Extension document entitled Home-Processing Black and Green Tea by Dwight Sato, et al.

Keywords: Cyclopia, Citrus, Camellia sinensis, Aspalathus
Date: 2008-02-07

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