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.

Melaleuca Trunk - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca trunk shows why it is also called a paperbark tree.

What soil does the Melaleuca prefer?

Melaleucas generally prefer well drained friable soil and full sun.

What are the other names for Melaleuca?

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.

Is the name Melaleuca Greek?

The name Melaleuca comes from two Greek words. In Greek, melas means black, similar to the word melatonin. In Greek, leukos means white and comes from the proto Indo-European word “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.

White Trunk Melaleuca - Reds Landscaping & Design
The white trunk of the melaleuca is a clue to its 2 names.

Which Melaleuca variety is used to make tea tree oil?

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.

What is tea tree oil used for?

Historically, tea tree 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 of the Melaleuca tree 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 World War 2, tea-tree oil declined in usage.

What varieties of Melaleuca can be grown as garden plants?

There are quite a few varieties of Melaleuca that can be grown as garden plants in Australia. One important note is that 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. Melaleucas are suitable for both home landscaping and commercial landscaping.

Melaleuca Tree - Reds Landscaping & Design
Many Melaleuca Trees have thick canopies and make a great street tree for shading the neighbourhood.

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. It is tolerant of most well-drained soils and situations, including moderate frosts, 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 Melbourne garden.

Melaleuca Armillari - Reds Landscaping & Design
A member of the Myrtaceae family of plants, Melaleuca glaberrima is unique to the south-west of Western Australia. It is a dense, spreading shrub with numerous pink or mauve flowers and needle-shaped but not pointy leaves.

Melaleuca Armillaris - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca Armillaris. Fine needle like grey-green to deep green leaves with dense clusters of cream bottle-brush style flowers that will attract birds.

Melaleuca hypericifolia
Another rounded shrub or tree, it grows to between 2 and 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 hypericifolia - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca hypericifolia – Photo: Brian Walters Autralian Native Plants Society.


Melaleuca hypericifolia - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca hypericifolia – Leaves are mid to deep green on the upper side. Bottle-brush style red or crimson flowers

Melaleuca thymifolia (Thyme-leaf Honey-myrtle)
With its frequent flowering and ability to be successfully grown in a range of conditions in a small garden, Melaleuca thymifolia is a popular choice for Melbourne gardeners. 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 Melbourne.

Melaleuca Thymifolia - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca Thymifolia the beautiful large, soft pink flowers will attract birds.

It is great for attracting and keeping bees and birds to your garden. It flowers for up to eight months of the year. The plant has blue-green foliage, and the 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 Melbourne 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.

Melaleuca Incana - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca Incana is weeping shrub with soft pale yellow brush-like flowers and blue-green or grey foliage.

By the time it is 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 that the flowers are plentiful and will attract birds and other wildlife. For best results, keep it 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 reasonably 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
Melaleuca leucadendra, also known as Fine Leafed Paperbark, Weeping Paperbark, or White Tea Tree, is a large, hardy native tree with attractive weeping bright green leaves and papery bark, as its name suggests. 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 in most parts of the mainland.

Melaleuca leucadendra - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca leucadendra has weeping bright green leaves and papery bark.

The leaves can be used as a source of tea-tree oil. This plant is both a food source and a nesting site, or habitat, for birds.
The good news for Melbourne gardeners is that this tree is tolerant to the coastal conditions such as salinity and poor or sandy soils that you may encounter in suburbs like Broadbeach. It favours an open to sunny position, so it is an ideal street tree.

Melaleuca Leucadendra as a swimming pool screening tree - Reds Landscaping & Design
Melaleuca Leucadendra as a swimming pool screening tree.


Other Species (Melaleuca linariifolia)
Melaleuca linariifolia will grow to around 9 metres. It can be used both in landscaping and in home gardens. It is native to southern Queensland and the east coast of New South Wales. It usually occurs 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).

Commercial Landscaping with Melaleuca

The hardy and drought tolerant Melaleuca is great as a street tree or for use in commercial landscaping.

The white peeling bark makes a great contrasting backdrop when planted with blue-green native grasses like Lomandra Seascape.

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More reading on Melaleucas

Australian Native Plant Society