Southern China ranges from tropical to subtropical with areas, especially in Yunnan's mountains, having almost any climate imaginable. Because of its size and diversity, numerous plants grow, many of which, in some remote areas of Yunnan, are in areas that have never been explored. However, three of southern China's most memorable plants are tea, or Camellia sinensis, rice and bamboo.
Camellia sinensis is the plant from which all types of tea are made. There are two varieties. The more modern small leafed variety is made into various white, yellow, oolong, black and green teas. A more ancient cultivar, called big leaf, or "da yeh," is used for a specialized black tea called pu erh. Pu erh has an earthy, musky flavor that is unique among the world's teas. Although Camellia sinensis can grow to nearly 50 feet tall, it is usually kept at around 3 feet to make harvesting easier. Camelia sinensis requires a soil that drains very well. It can grow in sandy or rocky soil quite readily. Camelia sinensis does best in a location where it can get direct morning sun, but where it is shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Although its origins are prehistoric, Camellia sinensis likely originated in Yunnan's Xishuangbanna in southwest China.
Rice is a traditional plant crop throughout southern China. Although spectacular rice terraces exist in many parts of China, its most spectacular are in Guanxi province where entire landscapes have been terraced for generations. Rice grows in fields where the plants are placed in wet, loamy soil. The fields are flooded to provide adequate water to the plants. Rice grows in full sun. Many different traditional varieties of rice are grown, although some farmers are starting to use lower quality commercial varieties that produce more.
Bamboo is a large grass that generally grows under the protective canopy of a taller forest. In China, bamboo is cultivated as both a building material and as a food. Properly prepared bamboo shoots are a staple of the southern Chinese diet when in season. Bamboo grows in a wide range of soils, and generally does best when grown in partial or indirect sun. Bamboos in southern China can range from small bamboos of around 6 feet tall to large bamboos as tall as 30 to 50 feet. Some bamboos have unique black culms, while others have bulbous culms that narrow when they meet the joints in the bamboo.