A large shrub or small tree to 8 metres high with hard to corky fibrous bark.
It has a mostly coastal occurrence in NSW, growing from the NSW south coast and Victorian-border, north to Port Macquarie, extending west to the Blue Mountains and Southern Tablelands. In Victoria, it extends along parts of the Victorian Coast; in the eastern parts and western south coast into South Australia (comon around Adelaide and to as far as south of Lake Acraman), as well as Tasmania where it grows on the east coast.
It has spread as a weed further afield in South Australia, Western Australia and inland parts of Victoria, and possibly Queensland and Tasmania. It is a species that spreads easily and some of the records in Australia may be naturalisations.
Its natural habitat is coastal heathland and shrublands communities, often on headlands or coastal ranges.
Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are alternate, linear to narrow-oval in shape, with the end tapering to a distinct hook, to 25 mm long and approximately 1 mm wide, aromatic when crushed, mid to dark green.
In Melaleuca species, flowers are usually arranged in spikes or heads. Within the head or spike, the flowers are often in groups of two or three. Flowers have five sepals (sometimes fused into a ring of tissue) and five petals which are typically small and do not persist on the flower for long.
Like many other Myrtaceae genera, the flowers are conspicuously staminate with each flower having many stamens surrounding one carpel. The stamens are typically fused into five separate bundles (staminal claws) which each bundle sitting opposite a petal (a generally useful identifying feature for the genus to distinguish it from Callistemon). Melaleuca flowers do not have pedicels (sessile).
In this species, the flowers are white to cream-coloured (pink has been observed), and are arranged in cylindrical spikes, often on older wood. The spikes are up to 50 mm long and 25 mm in diameter, containing many flowers.
The fruits are capsules, woody and round, to 5 mm in diameter with the inner orifice to 4 mm in diameter.
This species has been popular in cultivation for a long time and has been planted in large numbers in coastal areas (especially settings such as coastal golf course fairways).
It is a hardy, commonly grown species, often used as a fast-growing screen and hedge plant, but it also has the potential to become a weed. It has become naturalised in Western Australia and parts of Victoria.
It can be shaped into a well-rounded shrub with dense foliage. It can grow large but can be kept in check with regular pruning. The cream inflorescences can be produced in large numbers. It tolerates a full sandy soil to enriched loam. May not thrive on clay soils.
Melaleucas are mostly pollinated by insects, including the introduced honey bee (Apis mellifera), flies, beetles, wasps and thrips. Birds such as lorikeets and honeyeaters, as well as, flying foxes often visit the flowers and are probably also pollinators. Hence, they are important plants to create diversity in a suburban garden.
Most species respond well to pruning. It is advised to undertake a light annual trim to promote bushy growth. Some will withstand severe pruning as they can produce coppicing growth (epicormic shoots etc).
Melaleucas are typically healthy plants and can usually defend against pests and diseases. The most serious pest is probably webbing caterpillar. These grubs will encase themselves in a web-like structure of foliage and droppings, causing severe defoliation.
Melaleucas can be fertilised if done responsibly. The use of a slow-release fertiliser after flowering is recommended.
Melaleucas can be propagated by either seed or cuttings. However, to maintain desirable characteristics of a particular plant, vegetative propagation (eg. cuttings) must be used. This also applies to propagation of named cultivars.
There are two subspecies are currently recognised:
There is at leats one cultivar known as ‘Green Globe’.
The genus Melaleuca has been subject to recent taxonomic revision with early and recent botanists including Ferdinand von Mueller and Lyndley Craven (deceased in 2014) proposing to expand the genus to include all Callistemon spp. and others.
Craven et al. (2014) published new species combinations which included the renaming of all Callistemon species to Melaleuca, based on evolutionary relationships and DNA evidence and other features.
Currently, the NSW Herbarium advises that the Callistemon genus can still be used.
Melaleuca is a genus of about 220 species, occurring mostly in Australia, but also Malesia and New Guinea. Australia has about 215 species with 210 reported endemic, occurring in all states. NSW currently has 30 species.
This species easily regenerates after fire, producing coppicing basal and branch shoots. It will also regenerate by seed.
Melaleuca – is derived from the Ancient Greek mélas (μέλας) meaning “dark” or “black” and leukós (λευκός) meaning “white”, apparently because one of the first specimens described had fire-blackened white bark.
armillaris – is from the Latin armilla, meaning “bracelet”, apparently in reference to the appearance of the cylinder of fruits on the branches. Some other plant species carrying this epithet, are possibly named due to the fact that the fruits were used as beads for bracelets by Indigenous Peoples.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca armillaris profile page
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.
Growing Illawarra Natives – Melaleuca armillaris profile page https://finder.growingillawarranatives.org/plants/plant/312
Wikipedia – Melaleuca armillaris and Melaleuca profile page
Craven, L.A., Edwards, R.D. and Cowley, K.J. (2014). New combinations and names in Melaleuca (Myrtaceae). Taxon 63(3): 663-670.
Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Melaleuca profile page https://anpsa.org.au/genera/melaleuca