Melaleuca ericifolia is a tall shrub to small tree reaching 8 metres tall with a canopy to 5 metres wide. Bark is papery and grey to brown.
It is found naturally in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. In NSW, it grows very close to the coast, generally southwards from just north of Taree, extending commonly down the coast, into Victoria where it is found generally in the south-east quarter of the state, along the coast and inland to the Melbourne area, with a disjunction further west on the south coast at Portland. It occurs on the islands of Bass Strait and into Tasmania, where it grows mostly along the coast in the northern half of the state and northern inland.
It is typically found close to creeklines and in swamps, in heathland, shrubland and dry-sclerophyll woodland. It can form dense thickets in wetlands.
Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are alternate to clustered-spiral or in whorls of 3, linear and up to 15 mm long by about 1 mm wide with an acute apex. The juvenile growth is bright green. Adult leaves are 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, up to 30 or more staminate flowers are produced in dense and cylindrical spikes, about 3 cm long, at the stem terminals, white to cream in colour; each flower solitary and about 3 mm wide; occurring in spring and is usually bountiful.
The fruit is a capsule. In this species, they are about 4 mm in diameter, clustered along the stems.
This species grows reliably and is hardy in most situations. It is fast-growing and is reported to be very hardy.
Melaleuca ericifolia could be incorporated in native hedgerows as well as shelterbelts and windbreaks.
Best planted in a sunny spot. It can tolerate a variety of soils and is not overly fussy regarding drainage.
Prune behind the spent flowers to keep plants from becoming straggly.
In our cold climate garden (near Armidale) the Swamp Paperbark survives, thrives and flowers bounteously in dry, well-drained situations.
Many insects, including flower wasps, native bees and various beetles, are attracted to the flowers.
Propagate from seed and cuttings. We prefer cutting propagation because these plants flower considerably sooner than seed-grown specimens.
Melaleuca ericifolia is mentioned in the Journal of the Linnean Society of London (1797) by Sir James Edward Smith, a noted botanist of that era. He founded the Society and also named Melaleuca ericifolia. Smith thought that the dried leaves of Swamp Paperbark tasted like Coriander seeds.
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.
ericifolia – Latin – referring to the foliage resembling the Erica genus – a large genus of “heaths” in the Ericaceae family.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca ericifolia profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Melaleuca~ericifolia
VICFlora – the Flora of Victoria Online – Melaleuca ericifolia profile page https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/e91dc560-84d5-40c5-94bb-033f16503403
Friends of Venus Bay Peninsula – Melaleuca ericifolia profile page https://friendsofvenusbaypeninsula.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Swamp-Paperbark-Melaleuca-ericifolia.pdf
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.