The Melaleuca or Paperbark
The melaleuca is a genus of flowering evergreen Australian native shrubs and trees. It is a member of the myrtle family, Myrtaceae. They generally prefer well drained friable soil and full sun. The smaller varieties have been known as honey myrtles, tee trees, ( including tea trees or ti trees) or bottlebrush. The Larger species are also known as paperbarks. The name Melaleuca comes from two Greek words. In Greek melas means black, similar to the word melatonin. In Greek leukos mean white and comes from the proto Indo-European work leuk meaning light or brightness. It is related to the medical term leukaemia. It is not really known with absolute certainty how the melaleuca got this name. Perhaps the first ones seen had been affected by a bush fire that turned the trunks black. The white could be from new branch growth or even from white flowers. Some species have white trunks.
One species, Melaleuca alternifolia, also known as the narrow-leaved paperbark or narrow-leaved tea-tree is grown commercially for the production of tea tree oil. This species is native to South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Historically the oil has been mainly used for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also now known for its anti fungal properties. It has been said that Captain Cook learnt about the medicinal properties on the Melaleuca from the indigenous inhabitants of New South Wales, who had probably been using it for tens of thousands of years. It wasn’t until the 1920s that western medicine discovered that tea-tree oil was much stronger than the commonly used antiseptic at the time (carbolic acid) and caused much less irritation. With the invention of modern antibiotics during Work War 2, tea-tree oil declined in usage. In today’s blog we will discuss a few of the varieties of Melaleuca that can be grown as garden plants in South East Queensland. One important note is when selecting plants, make sure they are in good health and free from rust or scale. Check for the presence of powdery bright yellow or orange-yellow spores on the leaves or stems. These are indicators of myrtle rust.
Melaleuca Armillaris Bracelet Honey Myrtle
Rounded shrub or Small tree which grows 3 to 6 metres tall and 1.2 to 3 metres in diameter. It has fine needle like grey-green to deep green leaves. In spring and summer it produces dense clusters of cream bottle-brush style flowers that will attract birds.Tolerant of most well-drained soils and situations, including moderate frosts and extended dry periods and temporary water logging. The Fast growing plants respond well to pruning and can be grown as a fast growing hedge or screen. A note of caution, as this variety has the potential to spread rapidly. Melaleuca thymifolia is probably a better choice for your Gold Coast garden.
Another rounded shrub or tree, it grows to between 2 to 5 metres tall and about the same in diameter. The leaves are an elliptical mid to deep green on the upper side, but paler on the underside. In summer it produces 20 to 25 mm in diameter bottle-brush style red or crimson flowers 40 to 80 mm long.
Melaleuca thymifolia (Thyme-leaf Honey-myrtle)
With its frequent flowering and ability to be successfully grow in a range of conditions in a small garden, Melaleuca thymifolia is a popular choice for Gold Coast gardeners. As It comes naturally from New South Wales and Queensland, growing in mild, moist areas and light soils, it is well suited to the coastal region of the Gold Coast.
As it flowers for up to eight months of the year, it is great for attracting and keeping bees and birds to your garden. The plant has blue-green foliage and young stems are reddish when growth is reasonably rapid. As you can see in the picture, the elliptical leaves are about 10 mm long in even pairs pointing upwards close to the stems. Small clusters of stemless flowers appear on mature stems below the new growth. In colder climates, the flowers are bluish-purple in early winter changing to a rich pink or mauve in spring and summer. Regular watering will result in many beautiful large, soft pink flowers. A dripping irrigation system will produce great results. As it recovers well from drought and pruning is not really necessary to create a shaped plant, it provides a low maintenance option for your Gold Coast garden.
Melaleuca incana Grey Honey Myrtle
The Grey Honey Myrtle is originally from the south of Western Australia. It is a weeping shrub with blue-green or grey foliage.
By 5 years old it will grow to about 2 m high and wide which is a fairly rapid growth rate. Eventual height is at least 3 m though size and shape can be controlled by pruning. The soft pale yellow brush-like flowers are up to 2.5 cm long. The good news is the flowering plentiful and will attract birds and other wildlife. For best results, keep well watered and you will be rewarded with a profusion of flowers. This species can be pruned to form a hedge as it has a dense frame of thin branches from the base. Once established it is resistant to drought and reasonable resistant to frost. If you water regularly with an irrigation dripping system, you will be rewarded with lush growth as well as flowers. As you can see in the photograph, the Leaves are narrow and around 15 mm long. The beautiful yellow brush-like flowers are up to 25 mm long.
Melaleuca leucadendra also known as Fine Leafed Paperbark, Weeping Paperbark or White Tea Tree. This is a large hardy native tree with attractive weeping bright green leaves and papery bark as its name suggest. Typically the bark is white or pale and the dead bark is layered with the appearance of paper.The maximum height of these is about 13 metres with a spread of around 9 metres. The profuse flowers are creamy cylindrical bottlebrush spikes. The tree is native to northern Australia but it will grow on most parts of the mainland.
The leaves can be used as a source of tea-tree oil. This plant is both a food source and nesting site or habitat for birds.
The good news for Gold Coast Gardeners is that this tree is tolerant to the coastal conditions such as salinity and poor or sandy soils you may encounter in suburbs like Broadbeach. It favours an open to sunny position, so it is an ideal street tree .
Melaleuca linariifolia will grow to around 9 metres. It can be used both in landscaping or home gardens. It is native to southern Queensland and the east coast of New South Wales. It usually around swamps and along watercourses. Common names include Narrow-leaved Paperbark and Snow-in-Summer, due to its prolific clusters of fluffy white flowers. Some smaller varieties to consider are “Sea Foam” (2.5 metres) or “Snowstorm”, (1.5 metres).
For more information on growing screening plants for garden privacy read our blog.
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