Fukien Tea

Fukien tea flower

Carmona microphylla (Ehretia buxifolia)

Walking in downtown Miami yesterday, my eye was drawn to a particularly fine-looking, uniform, sharply clipped hedge. So I sauntered up for a look and found Fukien-Tea, an attractive Asian species with some nomenclatural confusion. Fukien (Fujian) is a province historically split between mainland China and Taiwan.

Fukien tea clippy clippy

Bonsai enthusiasts know the plant well for its tight growth, malleability, and tiny glossy leaves on a size scale consistent with bonsai. It also makes a tropical “boxwood”-style clipped hedge.

Any plant with “tea” in its name must have more useful history than bonsai and hedges. Yes, in Asia it has been a tea, even sold in teabags, although teatime use is not prominent, and the species is laden with bioactive compounds and festooned in traditional medicinal applications, including cosmetic teeth-blackening.  A traditional application is against bleeding from the bite of the saw-scaled viper, and modern research shows activity against that injury, also undoubtedly better antivenins are available in the event of a Miami viper attack.

The leaves, 1/3 inch long

Everything has its drawbacks. This is a tropical hedge very unhappy in the cold, and damaged hedges lose their uniformity. The plant gets pests, and is a special favorite for spider mites. The flowers are pretty and ongoing, but pruned off and tiny, on a bonsai scale. The berrylike fruits can be spread by birds, making the plant an invasive problem in other regions, and has a toehold as an escaped exotic in the Miami area.


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