Botany

An Overview of the Australian Species of the Melaleuca Genus



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The beautiful Melaleuca has the common name of honey-myrtle. Some are known as paper-barks due to their paper-like bark which peels off in layers. There are over 200 species in the Melaleuca genus which belongs to the myrtle (Myrtaceae) family. Most are native to Australia. The flowers are composed of numerous stamens joined into bundles then grouped into dense spikes or heads. The flowers are rich in nectar and are favourites with birds while, with many species, the bark is an added attraction as a nesting material. Flower colour includes white, yellow and orange, through to pink, red and purple.

Melaleuca thymifolia or thyme honey-myrtle is native to Queensland and New South Wales. It is a compact, aromatic shrub with slender branches and small, narrow leaves. The mauve-purple flowers are fringed and claw-like and are displayed in irregular clusters on older wood throughout the year. Two cultivars are ‘Cotton Candy’ which has mauve flowers and ‘White Lace’ which has white flowers. It is an excellent choice for a sunny, moist position and will withstand periods of waterlogging.

Melaleuca incana or grey honey-myrtle is endemic to Western Australia. It is an attractive shrub with grey-green, pendulous foliage and creamy yellow brushes of up to 3cm in length. The linear leaves are often covered in fine, soft hairs and have prominent oil glands. It flowers from September to December and is suited to moist or well-drained positions.

Melaleuca leucadendron is a native of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It is a medium to large tree with papery bark and broad leaves. Cream flower spikes to 15cm long are borne mainly from June to February with sporadic flowering at other times. The nectar-rich flowers attract many bird species. This species will tolerate moist or even water-logged situations.

Occurring in the same states is Melaleuca viridiflora       . This large shrub to medium tree (8 to 10 metres in height) has leaves to 15cm long. Pale green or red flower spikes are displayed through most of the year. This species is variable both in habit and flower colour. It is best suited to tropical or sub-tropical areas. It is favoured by birds.

The swamp paperbark, Melaleuca ericifolia, is an upright shrub to small tree which is found mainly in the coastal districts of south-eastern Australia. It has grey, papery bark and small, dark green linear leaves which are crowded on the branchlets. It bears scented, creamy white brushes about 4cm long from October to November. It prefers a moist position with full or partial sun. It is not affected by frost.

Melaleuca lanceolata is also called Moonah, Rottnest honey-myrtle or black tea-tree. It occurs across southern Australia. It is a dense, weeping shrub with a rounded crown and dark, hard-barked trunk. White to cream brushes appear from October to February and flowering can be profuse. It is a relatively slow-growing small tree that prefers a sunny well-drained position and will tolerate exposed coastal conditions and alkaline soils.

Melaleuca armillaris, also known as the bracelet honey-myrtle, is a bushy shrub or small tree. It has dark green narrow leaves to 2.5cm long. The buds have prominent reddish bracts. Cream spikes are produced mainly from August to January. It is hardy and quick growing and makes an excellent choice as a screening plant or for use as a windbreak. It is also a favourite with birds.

Melaleuca lateritia or red robin bush is native to Western Australia. It is a narrow-stemmed, erect shrub with arching branches and light green narrow leaves which are aromatic when crushed. It produces bright orange-red flower spikes of up to 10cm long on older wood mainly from November to April. It is happy in full sun or semi-shade and in moist or well-drained positions.

Melaleuca wilsonii or violet honey-myrtle is an open to fairly dense shrub with short, narrow leaves which have a citrus smell when crushed. Clusters of lilac to reddish pink flowers appear on older wood mainly from September to October. It is hardy to a wide range of conditions. Light pruning will encourage a bushy shape.

A very attractive species is Melaleuca linariifolia or        Snow in Summer. It has papery bark and clusters of white feathery flowers from November to February. It is hardy and copes with moist or well-drained positions. It is often grown as a street tree and is a good choice to entice birdlife as the bark is favoured as a nesting material.

In general, melaleucas are easy to grow in full sun or partial shade. They like acidic, well-drained soil. They are generally fast-growing and adaptable, able to withstand some pollution and some coastal exposure. Some will cope with moist, poorly drained positions and light frosts while a few will cope with heavy frosts.

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