Melaleuca lateritia

Robin Red-breast Bush

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca lateritia, Robin Red-breast Bush, is an erect shrub that reaches a height of up to 2 metres, spreading to about the same width.

It is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia, growing generally within 100 km of the south and west coast, from Albany, through Augusta, north to Perth, out west to areas such as Darkin, north to around Three Springs.

It has been observed to grow on clay soils to sandy clays as well as granite outcrops in heathland and shrubland as well as dry sclerophyll woodlands.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are alternate to spiral along stems, linear, to 25 mm long by about 2 mm wide with a pointed tip, blue-green to light-green in colour and somewhat concave; aromatic.

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 around 50 staminate flowers are produced in bright red-orange flower spikes to about 80 mm long by 60 mm in diameter; each flower about 5 mm wide by 30 mm long; produced anytime from September to April; inflorescences are usually on older wood.

The fruit is a capsule, that are to about 8 mm in diameter and produced in clusters along the stems, holding their seeds for a long time.

In the garden

This is reportedly one of the most common melaleucas, from Western Australia, cultivated on the east coast. It is very hardy and attractive and does well in most situations, at least as far north as Brisbane.

The Robin Red-breast Bush has proved to be very hardy and free flowering. Occasional pruning will increase both foliage density and flowering.

It is best grown on a well-drained soil in full sun. Flowers are very attractive.

The flower spikes are visited by honeyeaters.


Propagate from seed and cuttings.

Other information

Melaleuca lateritia was named by Alfred Dietrich (1795–1856) in 1834. The location is listed as “Nova Hollandia”. As well as being a botanist, Dietrich was a skilled botanical illustrator.

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.

lateritia – Latin meaning “bricks”, reportedly referring to the red-brick colour of the inflorescences.

Western Australian Herbarium (1998–). Florabase: The Western Australian Flora – Melaleuca lateritia profile page https://florabase.dbca.wa.gov.au/browse/profile.php/5926

Australian National Herbarium – Melaleuca lateritia profile page    https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp8/mel-late.html

Australian Native Plants Society Australia (ANPSA) – Melaleuca lateritia profile page https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/melaleuca-lateritia/

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. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke