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Leptospermum laevigatum

Coast Tea Tree

Family: Myrtaceae

Leptospermum laevigatum is known as the Coast Tea Tree and is a medium to tall shrub or small tree reaching a height of eight metres.

The trunk is often gnarled, the bark flaky and shed in strips. 

Leaves are greyish green, narrow obovate to 30 mm long and to 10 mm wide with plants readily distinguishable from other Leptospermum spp.

Leptospermum typically produce solitary flowers, or in small groups of 2s and 3s or more, within the leaf axils. Flowers have 5 petals and sepals and have a symmetrical rotate shape.  Stamens are produced in groups of 5 which surround 1 carpel (female part). The prominent feature in Leptospermum is the hypanthium, a cup or vase-shaped receptacle that supports the flower.

In this species, the flowers are produced in pairs, on short side shoots, to 20 mm wide, white in colour, occurring from August to October. The flower buds also have many reddish-brown bracts. 

The capsule is to 8 mm diameter and mostly fall from the plant shortly after reaching maturity.

It is confined to coastal environments – right next to beaches, growing on sand dunes, forming part of coastal shrublands, heathlands and dry sclerophyll woodlands. Its natural distribution is south of Nambucca Heads in NSW, extending down the coast into Victoria, to the west side of Port Phillip Bay, extending to Tasmania and its islands. It has become a weed in South Australia, Western Australia, South Africa and the Unites States – in coastal areas. 

In the garden

In areas where there is no potential for bushland invasion Leptospermum laevigatum could be cultivated in hedges. 

This plant is cultivated commonly and has been planted for over 100 years. It is useful for beachside gardens and sandy coastal suburbs, especially for creating screens and structure.

Grow in full sun to part-shade. Prune lightly to moderately to shape after flowering or fruiting. Does best on a free-draining sandy soil. Very hardy and can tolerate salt spray.

It has become a weed outside of its natural range so plant with caution.

Leptospermum are generally susceptible to the webbing caterpillar. Usually, the most effective control method for this pest is removing infestations by hand or, if necessary, you can systematically spray with a suitable pesticide. They are also prone to scale insects which is best treated by spraying white oil solution.

Propagation

Propagate from seed and cuttings.

Other information

Leptospermum laevigatum has been planted along the Central Coast of California to stabilise sand where it is known as the Australian Tea Tree, but has now become a weed.

The species was recorded as growing in Melbourne Botanic Gardens in 1858.

At least one form with variegated foliage is in cultivation. It is known as ‘Flamingo’ or the ‘Cranbourne Form’ and is a shrub 1-5 to 2 metres high by 1.5 metres wide. Another variegated form is known as ‘Raelene’ – this may be the same plant as ‘Flamingo’ under a different name.

Most Leptospermum species are endemic to Australia where most are found in southern areas of the country and many make desirable garden plants. Current estimates recognize about ninety species of Leptospermum along with many cultivars now existing.

The nectar from the flowers of one species (L. scoparium) is harvested by bees, yielding honey, which is marketed as Manuka honey.

Many Leptospermum species have an ability to regenerate vegetatively after fire with suckering basal growth and branch-shoots. They will also regenerate by seed.

The general common name, Teatree, derives from the practice of early Australian settlers who soaked the leaves of several species in boiling water to make a herbal tea.

Leptospermum – derived from the Greek words leptos (λεπτός) meaning “thin”, “fine” or “slender” and sperma (σπέρμα) meaning “seed”, referring to the thin brown seeds of the genus.

laevigatum from Latin laevigatus, meaning “made smooth” or “shiny” or “having a polished surface” – probably a reference to the texture of the leaves.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. 

Australian National Herbarium – Leptospermum profile page          https://www.anbg.gov.au/leptospermum/

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Leptospermum laevigatum profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Leptospermum~laevigatum

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

By Warren and Gloria Sheather, Jeff Howes and Dan Clarke