fbpx

Melaleuca decora

White-feather Honeymyrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

A tree to 25 metres tall – although usually smaller, and with thick paperbark.

It grows mainly on the NSW Coast, extending as far as the south of Jervis Bay, extending north into Sydney (where it grows in large numbers on creeklines and gravel transition forests in western Sydney), up to Wyong and extending north-west into the Hunter Valley to Aberdeen, and north to around Buladelah and Dungog, then with a large disjunct occurrence on the north coast of NSW, extending to the Sunshine Coast.

The leaves are arranged alternately, to 20 mm long and to 2 mm wide, flat, linear to narrow-elliptic in shape, and tapering to a point. They are not prickly to touch.

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 and without a petiole (sessile) 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).

In this species, flowers are cream-coloured or white, arranged in spikes on the ends of branches that continue to grow after flowering, to 50 mm long and to 20 mm in diameter, with spikes having up to 30 groups of flowers, usually in threes. Flowering is from November to January.

The fruit is cup-shaped, to 3 mm wide, without sepals.

In the garden

This species is a very hardy plant that can be grown in a range of soil types. It does require supplementary watering and will tolerate poorly drained sites.

It is a useful screening plant and flowers profusely. Is also frost tolerant.

It can grow into a large tree in time but can be pruned to maintain a shorter plant. However, do not plant where space is limited.

Known to damage underground services, do not plant within 5 metres of any wastewater pipe.

Creates dense canopy and so may add to habitat values.

Melaleuca decora would be a colourful addition to screens, hedges or on the margins of dams.

Propagation

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.

Seeds are available commercially.

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.

Other information

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 Callistemon 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.

A link showing the differences between Melaleucas and Callistemons is here: http://anpsa.org.au/mel-cal.html

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.

decora – Latin for “handsome”, “graceful” or “beautiful”. This species was first formally described by Richard Anthony Salisbury in 1796, who named it Metrosideros decora. The reason for the epithet is unclear. Large trees can have a beautiful form and the foliage on the branches has an ordered appearance.

In 1916, James Britten moved this species to the genus Melaleuca as Melaleuca decora.

Not considered to be at risk of extinction the wild. Very common.

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca decora profile page
https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Melaleuca~decora

Wikipedia – Melaleuca decora and Melaleuca profile page
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_decora
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca

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

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 Warren and Gloria Sheather, Jeff Howes,