Melaleuca brevifolia

Mallee Honey-myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca brevifolia is known as the Mallee Honey-myrtle and is reported to reach about 3 metres tall by 1 to 2 metres wide.

The bark is corky.

This species has a rather disjointed distribution, growing in western Victoria, from around the Casterton-region, north along the South-Australian border to north-east of Pinaroo (in SA). It extends as far east as near Stawell. It extends into South Australia, growing around the coast and inland, from Mt Gambier to Adelaide as well as Kangaroo Island, extending to Port Linoln, north to Whyalla and west to Streaky Bay. It then shows up in Western Australia, growing in the south-west region, from about Lake Daringdella on the coast, west to Franklin River-region then north through Perth to about Eneabba.

It typically grows in heathland and shrubland as well as mallee-shrubland, often on sandy soils.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are in mostly opposite pairs, with pairs tightly clustered and spiralling around the stems; small, narrow, to 8 mm long and to 2 mm wide, blue-green to green in colour. An unusual feature is the two rows of glands on the under surface of the leaves.

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, white to cream flowers are arranged in groups of 2 to 4 in leaf axils, creating leafy spikes, and also usually on older wood (which is sometimes leafless), to 10 cm or more, occurring in spring and summer; each flower about 5 mm wide. Blooms are very showy.

The fruit is a capsule. In this species, it is to 6 mm wide and produced fused to the stems.

In the garden

This species is reported to be a hardy shrub in the right location. It prefers a well-drained soil in full sun. A useful habitat-creating plant and screen. Very useful for bird-shelter.

Author’s notes:

Pruning, after flowering, prevents plants becoming straggly and improves the floral display.

Our specimen, growing in rather harsh conditions in our cold climate garden (near Armidale, NSW), is just over 1 metre tall and is about 8 years old. (It likely grows faster in warmer environments).


Propagate from seed or cuttings.

Other information

The type specimen appears to have been collected on Bald Island part of Waychinicup National Park, east of Albany in 1862.

The species was known as Melaleuca neglecta and Melaleuca oraria.

This species can regenerate well after fire through epicormic shoots and basal coppicing as well as form the seed bank.

The genus Melelauca 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.

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.

brevifolia – Latin brevi meaning “short” and –folia meaning “leaves” – referring to the short leaves of this species.

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

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

VicFlora – The Flora of Victoria Online – Melaleuca brevifolia profile page https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/5d7949f8-4deb-422f-921d-463514471598

Botanic Gardens of South Australia – Plant Selector – Melaleuca brevifolia profile page http://plantselector.botanicgardens.sa.gov.au/Plants/Details/3013

By Warren and Gloria Sheather. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke