What’s Growing On: Tea Plants

Published: Jun. 24, 2022 at 10:14 AM EDT
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CITRA, Fla. (WCJB) - When you think of where tea is drank, you probably picture the Deep South.

But, when you think of where tea is grown, you might picture the mountains or high elevations.

But the flat terrain of North Central Florida might be more conducive to tea growth than you think.

Dr. Brantlee Spikes-Richter, a plant pathologist at UF, notes “Florida is at a point in our agriculture where we really need to diversify.”

Due to plant diseases affecting citrus and other crops, farmers across the state are looking to effectively produce new crops that can serve as backup sources of agriculture

Tea is a potential plant in the pipeline that could become one of the next big crops in Florida.

UF IFAS received a specialty crop grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture to begin experimenting with tea plants in the region.

Richter adds that “Tea could also help fill in the rest of the summer with repeat harvest throughout the summer. It could be a good companion crop to many of the other crops that we have.”

Most tea that we drink is imported from Asia and India, areas of mountainous terrain but that doesn’t suggest “tea loves the mountains, it’s just because tea likes good drainage.”

And Florida’s sandy soil allows the plants to drain efficiently throughout the year.

Once they become established 3 to 4 years down the line, their durability becomes one of their greatest strengths because they can handle the heat, freezing, and even what the tropics can bring.

Richter says the plants survived Irma’s tropical-storm-force winds and “our student at the time and marked a bunch of branches and counted leaves on them to see how many leaves they lost, hardly any.”

Brantlee, along with her partners, are evaluating which types grow the best in the region and yield the best results.

From there, they hope to determine which leaves are suitable for the market in North Central Florida.

Brantlee adds if “you’re a fan of sweet tea for example, we’re gonna want to grow things that produce good black teas that would be used for sweet tea. That would be a good local market for us.”

For more information on their study and how these plants can beautify your yard, visit here.

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