Every so often I see Camellia sinensis written incorrectly, with a capital “s,” or not italicized, or in quotes. It always registers immediately as incorrect for me, but I needed more background on what is correct and why, so I did a little bit of research. The term “binomial” is used for this kind of scientific taxonomy and indicates a two-name system (obviously). We can credit the botanist Linnaeus for developing this system.
From the article, “What’s in a name? A history of taxonomy:”
The binomial names were so much easier to remember that people soon started using them in place of the ‘correct’ names. Eventually they replaced the polynomial names completely, and became the correct names. The binomial system is the same one we use today–it’s how the scientific names of all organisms are constructed. The first part of the name is called the genus and is always capitalised. The second part of the name is called the species epithet and is not capitalised. In the correct format of a scientific name a person’s name (sometimes abbreviated) appears after the genus and species name, and this refers to the person who first coined the name. So the scientific name for the raspberry, Rubus idaeus L., can be broken down like this: Rubus (the genus name) idaeus (the species name) Linnaeus (the botanist who coined the name, often abbreviated). Taxonomists have formulated sets of rules for naming; all botanical naming begins with Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum in 1753 and animal naming with his tenth edition of Systema Naturae published in 1759.
Long story short, there is only one correct way to write the name of the true tea plant: Camellia sinensis. Additionally, the names of the two primary varieties should be written Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
Another interesting fact about the name of the tea plant is that until Robert Sweet recategorized it into the Camellia genus in 1818, it was identified with the genus Thea, so the true tea plant was called Thea sinensis. There are some sources which still use that antiquated term even today.
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