Tracking Brazil’s Colonization Footprints: First record of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze — Theaceae) naturalized in the Atlantic Forest Hotspot
From Firenze University Press Journal: Journal of Plant Taxonomy and Geography (Webbia)
Guilherme Medeiros Antar, Universidade de São Paulo
Roberto Baptista Pereira Almeida, Universidade de São Paulo
Marco Antonio Palomares Accardo-Filho, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Herbário da Coleção Botânica de Plantas Medicinais
Rafael Gomes Barbosa-Silva, Instituto Tecnológico Vale
The colonization of Brazil by the Empire of Portugal left deep permanent marks in the country’s society and economy, such as the Portuguese as national language, and agriculture as main economic activity. There are long-standing marks in the country’s biodiversity as well, with many exotic plants introduced, intentionally or not, during the colonization period (Zenni and Ziller 2011). Some of them are now part of the 700 naturalized or invasive land plant species recorded in the country (Flora do Brasil 2020). These plants were brought mostly as a source of food or beverages, such as the coffee plant (Coffea arabica L.) and the jack tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.), both naturalized in the Atlantic Forest, or for medicinal use, includ-ing the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis L.), now an invasive species in disturbed areas across the country (Zenni and Ziller 2011; Flora do Brasil 2020). Another plant that was brought by the Portuguese during the colonial period due to its value as a drink (Namita et al.2012) is the tea plant (Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze. — Theaceae).
Camellia sinensis is native to China, Northeast India, South Japan, South Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam in subtropical humid forests (Tianlu Min and Bartholomew 2007). In the past 4000 years, the species was domesticated as a medicinal plant at least three independent times in southern China and northern India (Meegahakumbura et al. 2016), and its use as a beverage dates back to 5000 years ago (Majumdar et al. 2012). Since the mid-16th century, Europeans began to drink it, leading to a worldwide consumption of what would become the most popular non-alcoholic beverage nowadays.
Tea contains terpenes, phenolics, and nitrogen-containing metabolites that can provide health benefits as antioxidant, besides having anti-cancer, anti-allergic and anti-cardiovascular disease properties (Xiu et al. 2020).In Brazil, Camellia sinensis was brought for cultivation in the early 19th century and was established as a regular crop in some areas, mostly in Minas Gerais and São Paulo states, and later in Paraná. However, crops were later abandoned in other areas, especially in Rio de Janeiro state (Bediaga 2007). Although the cultivation of C. sinensis in Brazil dates to two centuries ago, the species has never been regarded as naturalized or invasive in the country (BFG 2015; Flora do Brasil 2020). In an unpublished study on the Theaceae from Rio de Janeiro state (Accardo-Filho 2004), the species was considered potentially naturalized, but the author stressed that more evidence was needed. During recent fieldwork in Petrópolis municipality, Rio de Janeiro state, reproductive and seedling individuals of C. sinensis were found in a natural, well-preserved area of Atlantic Forest. Here we report this finding, providing a brief history of the introduction of C. sinensis in Brazil, and highlighting the invasive potential of the species in the Atlantic Forest hotspot.
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