Camellia sasanqua (PROSEA)
Camellia sasanqua Thunb. ex Murray
- Family: Theaceae
Sasanqua vulgaris Nees, Thea sasanqua (Thunb. ex Murray) Cels.
- Teaseed, sazanka camellia (En).
Native to southwestern Japan (Ryukyu Islands), introduced and often cultivated elsewhere, particularly in northern India (Assam), China (most important), northern Vietnam and (formerly Soviet) Georgia.
The oil extracted from the seed is used as an edible oil similar to olive oil and as a substitute for cocoa butter. The cake remaining after oil extraction is poisonous (containing saponins) and is used in China as an insecticide. In Georgia , C. sasanqua leaves are an industrial source of eugenol. Flowers are used to scent tea. C. sasanqua and its hybrids are grown as ornamentals (in pots and as cut flowers, e.g. in Australia). Due to its vigour and resistance to some pathogens, C. sasanqua is also used as rootstock for other Camellia species.
Evergreen dense shrub or small tree, up to 5 m tall with slender branches. Leaves alternate, thinly coriaceous; petiole 3-5 mm long; blade elliptical-ovate, 3-5 cm × 1-2 cm, base acute, margin obtusely serrulate, apex obtuse, sometimes emarginate, veins only slightly raised. Flowers subterminal, sessile, solitary or in fascicles of 2-3, bisexual, white (also pink to rose in cultivars), 4-5 cm across; petals 6-8, free to base, spreading, obovate to oblong, up to 3.5 cm long; stamens numerous, at base attached to inner petals; pistil 11-14 mm long, ovary usually 3-carpelled, densely white-pilose, style with 3 arms. Fruit a capsule, obovoid-globose, 1.5-2 cm across, pubescent, pericarp rather thick, usually 1-2 seeds per locule. Seed 12-15 mm long, red-brown, the kernel about 70% of the seed weight. C. sasanqua prefers humid warm temperate and subtropical climates, in forests and forest borders. It is very sensitive to low temperatures. In Georgia, C. sasanqua can be grown up to 400 m altitude and coppices vigorously after fire. In Japan , flowering and fruiting is in October-December. China is the largest producer of teaseed oil in the world, with annual production of over 25 000 t, followed by Vietnam and India. Japanese cultivars derived from C. sasanqua have been classified into 4 cultivar groups: Hiemalis, Oleifera, Sasanqua and Vernalis, and based on e.g. flower colour, hundreds of cultivars have been distinguished. C. sasanqua is propagated by seed or by cuttings; propagation through immature embryo culture is also possible. C. sasanqua starts flowering at the age of 5-7 years, sometimes even at 2-3 years in Georgia. Pruning as applied to tea plants discourages seed formation. Harvesting is done by gathering mature fruits with seeds that have fallen to the ground. The seeds are then dried in the sun and the outer husks are removed by hand. After grinding the kernels, the meal is steam-pressed to produce the oil, or the oil is extracted with a solvent (e.g. petroleum ether). Seed of C. sasanqua contains up to 70% oil, the same as that of C. japonica L., while seed of C. sinensis (L.) Kuntze contains up to 30% oil. The oil is made up of 6-12% saturated acids, 72-78% oleic acid and 2-15% linoleic acid. When refined and deodorized it is chemically and physically similar to olive oil. Medicinally sasanqua oil is still under investigation; possibly it has anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor activity. Air-dried leaves of C. sasanqua contain about 2% eugenol and in Georgia a promising industry based on it is developing. For South-East Asia, C. sasanqua is only of interest in the northern areas and at higher altitudes (cultivation trials failed in Singapore; in Java plants grew well but produced only small seed). Based on experiences in Vietnam and China, it is worthwhile investigating cultivation possibilities in other suitable locations in South-East Asia.
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