A small to large shrub (small tree) growing to 6 metres tall by 5 metres wide.
It has a wide distribution in NSW with a variety of forms, growing from south-eastern NSW (around Bega and Lake Eucumbene), through the south coast, central coast and eastern part of the central tablelands divisions, right up through the central as well as north western plains, northern tablelands and north coast divisions. It extends up through Queensland to Cape York.
It is very common in sandstone woodland and forests, in Sydney and much further afield, on upper slopes and gullies. It also grows in moist basalt forests elsewhere. It can form dense shrub-thickets in disturbed areas and riparian corridors.
The bark is firm and often light-brown.
Leptospermum spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In thsi species, the leaves are narrow-elliptic / to linear-elliptic, to 20 mm long by 5 mm wide, usually hairless (glabrous) and with obvious oil dots, light to mid to grey-green, often smelling like lemon when crushed.
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 solitarily, to 15 mm in diameter, white in colour, occurring from August to January.
The fruit (capsules) are to 10 mm in diameter, woody, persisting after seed release.
This species is known to be cultivated commonly and may be marketed under the name L. flavescens. It is a flexible shrub and some forms have weeping or pendulous habits.
It is a very hardy shrub and several cultivars are available (see below). It grows readily in a sandy, free-draining soil and will benefit from some enrichment, in full sun to part shade. It may not thrive in boggy soils.
Some forms can get large but there are a range of smaller forms available. Can be pruned to create a dense plant. Some plants will flower very heavily, creating a stunning show.
Most Leptospermum species make good garden plants
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.
They are easy to propagate from seed or cuttings.
This species used to be named Leptospermum flavescens and may still be sold as such.
Four subspecies are currently recognised in NSW (and more are recognised throughout Australia):
• subsp. polygalifolium – leaves not stiff in texture and hairless – occurring over the southern half of the range including Sydney;
• subsp. montanum – growing mainly on the northern tablelands of NSW with hairy new growth.
• subsp. cismontanum – growing north of Gosford, along the coast, into Qld, with narrow grey-green leaves
• subsp. transmontanum – having stiff and flat leaves, growing on the northern tablelands, north-west slopes and western plains of NSW and into Qld.
Lord Howe Island has its own subspecies: subsp. howense
It is reported that subsp. tropicum is the cultivar marketed as ‘Cardwell’ which flowers very well, with a weeping habit, and is great for tropical gardens.
There is also now a cultivar called ‘Cardwell Pink’.
There are other cultivars called ‘Pacific Beauty’, ‘Copper Glow’ and ‘Coastal Carpet’, amongst others
Most Leptospermum species are endemic to Australia where most are found in southern areas of the country and many make desirable garden plants. However, please note the following changes:
In 2023, the genus Leptospermum of about 90-100 species, was reclassified and reduced to about 34 species, occurring in south-east Asia, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. Australia now has at least 31 species, occurring mostly in the eastern states. NSW currently has 31 species. The remaining approximately 60 species, that were previously Leptospermum, are now classified in four new genera: Aggreflorum, Gaudium, Leptospermopsis and Apectospermum. Species in these new genera are titled as such on this website with the synonymous Leptospermum name also indicated, for clarity.
The many cultivars in existence are still titled under Leptospermum.
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.
polygalifolium – Latin – polygali – referring to the genus Polygala and -folium “leaves” – referring to the species having leaves resembling some species of Polygala (a weed genus in Australia).
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
Australian National Botanic Gardens – Leptospermum profile page https://www.anbg.gov.au/leptospermum/
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Leptospermum polygalifolium profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Leptospermum~polygalifolium
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.