Melaleuca decussata

Cross-leaved Honey-myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca decussata, Cross-leaved Honey-myrtle, is a tall, rounded shrub reaching a height of three metres, spreading to around 3 metres.

It is a species native to Victoria and Tasmania (with some reported naturalisations in NSW), growing west from around Heyfield, through the Melbourn-area, west to the Warrnambool-region, and as far north as Bendigo-area and Lake Hindmarsh. It extends in South Australia, occurring north of Mt Gambier, the Adelaid-area, Kangaroo Island, the Yorke Peninsula and Port Lincoln, north towards Whyalla and west towards Elliston.

It is found along creeklines, on sandy flats, swampy areas and rock outcrops, usually in heathland, shrubland and dry sclerophyll woodlands.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are opposite and decussate (hence the common name), to about 15 mm long and 3 mm wide, linear to oblanceolate, green to blue-green in colour and with prominent warty-glands on the undersurface.

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, mauve flowers are held in small, cylindrical spikes, to about 3 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, on short lateral branches, with up to 10 paired-flowers per spike; each flower about 3 mm wide.  Flowers fade to white as they age; from late spring to summer. During this period, plants become covered with mauve and white spikes, depending on the age of the blooms.

The fruit is a capsule. In this species, it is to 4 mm wide, with fruits strongly fused / flattened to the stems.

In the garden

M. decussata is widely cultivated and has proved to be hardy and free flowering. It would be a useful addition to native shrubberies. The dense foliage provides safe nesting sites for small native birds. The species will cope with dry and moist situations. Prune after flowering to keep plants bushy and blooming bounteously.

It is a very attractive shrub with its mauve flowers and neat foliage. It reportedly handles a range of soils.


Propagate from seed or cuttings.

Other information

M. decussata was grown in Kew Gardens, UK in 1803.

The second image is from The Botanical Cabinet. This is a 20 volume catalogue that describes exotic plants grown in Conrad Loddige’s Nursery in Hackney, London. The volumes cover the period from 1817 to 1833 and contain over 2000 plant images and descriptions.

M. decussata appeared in Volume 13, published in 1827.

There is a ‘Dwarf’ cultivar available (see references below).

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.

decussata – Latin referring to “decussate” basically meaning “cross-ways” – referring to the opposite leaves where each pair of leaves on a stem is orientated at right angles to the adjacent pairs (above and below pair).

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

VICFlora – Flora of Victoria Online – Melaleuca decussata profile page https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/80cd348a-4bd8-47a9-81cb-9fac4fe16fb3

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

Gardening with Angus – Melaleuca decussata ‘Dwarf’ profile page https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/melaleuca-decussata-dwarf-paperbark/

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