Melaleuca capitata

Family: Myrtaceae

A shrub to 2 metres tall by up to 2 metres wide.

It has a restricted natural distribution in New South Wales, occurring between Bundanoon and Braidwood, across to Ulladulla with a slightly disjunct occurrence around Jervis Bay. It grows in heath and dry sclerophyll forest on sandstone and sandy deposits.

It has very hairy young branches.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, the leaves are alternate, glabrous and narrow-elliptic in shape, to 25 mm long, and to 3 mm wide and taper to a sharp point.

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 cream-colored and arranged in terminal heads or short spikes, up to 40 mm in diameter, containing up to 15 flowers. Flowering occurs between October and December

The capsules are globose to urn-shaped, to 7 mm diameter and usually without sepals.

In the garden

This plant is not widely grown, even though it is a hardy plant in a wide range of climates. It can be grown, reportedly, on sandy and heavier clay soils. Planting it in a sunny to shaded spot will give best results, especially with flowering.

Prune lightly for best results, after flowering or fruiting. It prefers reliable watering to do its best. Does not grow overly large, so suited to small gardens.

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.

Seed is available commercially.

Other information

This species easily regenerates after fire, producing coppicing basal and branch shoots. It will also regenerate by seed.

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.

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.

capitata – Latin caput, a meaning a “head” and the suffix ata / atus, “possessive of” or “likeness to” referring to the flowers occurring in heads.

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

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca capitata 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.

Craven, L.A., Edwards, R.D. and Cowley, K.J. (2014). New combinations and names in Melaleuca (Myrtaceae). Taxon 63(3): 663-670.

Wikipedia – Melaleuca and Melaleuca capitata profile page

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Melaleuca profile page https://anpsa.org.au/genera/melaleuca

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke