Leptospermum petersonii

Lemon-scented tea tree

Family: Myrtaceae

Leptospermum petersonii is a tree to about 5 metres tall and to 4 metres wide with flaky bark and soft light green foliage.

It grows naturally in northern NSW on the north coast subdivision, generall north of Port Macquarie. It extends into Queensland, along the coast to as far north as at least Gympie, but possibly as far as Bundaber. It is naturalised in the Sydney region and some other areas (from extensive planting).

It grows naturally near wet sclerophyll forest or rainforest on rocky escarpments.

Leptospermum spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In this species, leaves are lemon-scented and grow to 6 cm long and 0.5 cm wide, generally narrow-elliptic to linear. New leaf growth can have a light reddish tinge.

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. This species has small white flowers, about 1.5 cm across, produced in spring and summer. 

The fruit is a capsule, with 5 valves, to 6 mm in diameter.

In the garden

Like most Leptospermum species, it is tough and hardy, and suitable for a wide range of positions. Insects appear to be the main pollinators for Leptospermum.

It is fast growing and is an ideal filler tree or tall shrub in a mixed planting. It is also a suitable small street tree. It doesn’t take up too much space, allows light through, is easily pruned if needed, and is neutral enough in flower and foliage colour to work well with many other plants. It copes well with dry conditions and needs little care.

A popular shorter form of Leptospermum petersonii is Leptospermum ‘Lemon Hedges’ to 3 metres.

Leptospermum can be affected by webbing caterpillars, so keep a close eye on plants and remove any affected foliage before an infestation gets too bad.

It is lovely planted where sun can shine through the leaves, and wind can gently move the soft foliage. This species is grown more for the foliage and habit, rather than the flowers.


Grow by cutting or seed. It seeds prolifically from its woody capsules, so dig up and pot on any seedlings that come up around the plant. Due to its prolific seeding, it can become a weed in some areas.

Other information

The lemon-scented leaves can be used for teas, leading to the common name of tea tree, and the oils from the leaves are used for essential oils and scents.

It may not burn very often in its natural habitat but can likely regenerate from seed and epicormic shoots along with basal suckering.

There are about 90 species of Leptospermum estimated, occurring in South-East Asia, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. Australia has about 75 endemic species, and species can be found in all states. NSW has about 50 species. Many cultivars now exist.

Leptospermum – derived from the Greek words leptos meaning “fine” or “slender” and sperma which means “seed” referring to the thin brown seeds of the genus.

petersonii – named for to W.J. Peterson who collected a specimen on Wilsons Peak on the border of NSW and Queensland in January 1905.

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

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Leptospermum petersonii profile page

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

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 Rhonda Daniels. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke