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Phylogenetics and Biogeography of Camellia (Theaceae) in Indochinese Peninsula

Dongwei Zhao

Supervisors: Professor John Parnell and Professor Trevor Hodkinson

Many people usually like a cup of tea or enjoy camellias. Tea, camellias and oil camellias have brought huge profits to the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Americas, these plants belong to the genus Camellia L. (Theaceae).

About one third of all known Camellia species occur in the Indochinese Peninsula, of which half are endemic. Many new species of Camellia, including some golden camellias, are still being described from this area, suggesting that it was previously under-collected. Almost no work, however, has focused on the phylogenetics and biogeography of Camellia in this area. This project aims to address these issues using morphological and molecular approaches.

Morphological studies, consisting of a comparison and description of various macro-characters of specimens, palynological analyses and leaf anatomical investigations, will be undertaken to clarify the boundaries of species in this notoriously variable genus. DNA markers derived from nuclear and chloroplast genomes will be selected to generate molecular sequence data, which will be used to reconstruct a robust phylogenetic tree. A new classification of this genus could then be proposed based on both morphological and molecular data and the evolution and dispersal issues of Camellia species could be discussed; hopefully suggesting some species that have potential to supply new traits to facilitate the breeding of tea, camellias and oil camellias.

This program is funded by China Scholarship Council / Irish Universities Association Joint Scholarship, and partly supported by grants from the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, the Otomo Endowment Research Fund of International Camellia Society, the Systematics Research Fund jointly administered by the Linnean Society of London and the Systematics Association, the Trinity Trust Travel Grant, the Botany Department of Trinity College Dublin and the SYNTHESYS Project financed by European Community Research Infrastructure Action under the FP7 Integrating Activities Programme.


Zhao DW, Yang JB, Yang SX, Kato K, Luo JP. 2014. Genetic diversity and domestication origin of tea plant Camellia taliensis (Theaceae) as revealed by microsatellite markers. BMC Plant Biology 14: 14.

Yang SX, Nguyen H, Zhao DW, Shui YM. 2014. Rediscovery of Camellia tonkinensis (Theaceae) after more than 100 years. Plant Diversity and Resources 36: 585–589.

Zhao DW, Yang SX. 2012. Rediscovery of Camellia grandibracteata (Theaceae) with emendate description. Journal of Tropical and Subtropical Botany 20: 399–402.

Last updated 4 April 2016