Melaleuca incana

Grey Honey-myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca incana is a large shrub, potentially reaching 5 metres, spreading to several metres wide (sometimes wider than tall), with arching-weeping foliage.

It is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia, growing close to the west and south coasts and to about 150 km inland, from as far east as a disjunct occurrence between Esperance and Cape Arid National Park; then occurring further west from Albany northwards and westwards to Augusta, commonly north to Perth, east to Narrogin, to as far north as Lesueur National Park.

It grows naturally on moist sandy to sandy clay flats and depressions, in heathland and shrubland.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are opposite to whorled, often in 3s or 4s along stems, to 17 mm long and around 4 mm wide, linear to elliptic and tapering to a point; mid-green in colour. The new growth is covered in grey hairs – an attractive feature.

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 60 staminate flowers are arranged in spikes to 30 mm long by 15 mm wide, usually white to cream to yellow in colour; each flower about 4 mm wide by 20 mm long; produced from may to November. The flower-spikes tend to hand upside-down due to the weeping foliage.

The fruit is a capsule, that are about 4 mm long and wide, clustered along the stems.

In the garden

Author’s notes:

A common plant in cultivation. It is desired due to its weeping foliage.

Melaleuca incana is a triple-headed plant because the growth habit, foliage and flowers are all attractive features.

It is reported to be hardy in most situation and on most soils. Plant in a sunny spot with reliable drainage for best results.

We have many specimens growing in our cold climate garden (near Armidale) and the species is popular in other New England (NSW) gardens.

Melaleuca ‘Velvet Cushion’ is a beautiful dwarf cultivar of this species. There is another cultivar called ‘Sea Mist’.


Melaleuca incana propagates readily from cuttings.

Other information

There are currently two subspecies recognised:

  • subsp. incana – most of the geographic range and is a larger plant generally.
  • subsp. tenella – plants occurring between Esperance and Cape Arid National Park – generally smaller plants to 2 metres. (This taxon may be sold as M. tenella).

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.

incana – Latin meaning gray and hoary – referring to the new hairy growth of the species.

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

Western Australian Herbarium (1998–). Florabase: The Western Australian Flora. Melaleuca incana profile page https://florabase.dbca.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/5921

Australian National Herbarium – Melaleuca incana profile page https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp1/melaleuca-incana.html

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 incana ‘Sea Mist’ profile page https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/melaleuca-incana-sea-mist-honey-myrtle/

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