A tree potentially reaching 12 metres with white to creamy papery bark.
It occurs naturally, mainly in coastal NSW, growing as far south as Eden in NSW, along the entire coast and into Queensland where it moves inland and stretches to the north of Cairns. It is also found near Alice Springs.
It has been planted in Victoria and New Zealand and elsewhere but has not become a weed.
It is often found in swampy habitats, especially near freshwater creeks and swamps, on the edges of sandstone and sandy, as well as alluvial woodland and forest. It will sometimes grow in drier areas but often in proximity to creeks.
Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are opposite, arranged in pairs where each pair is orientated at right angles to the last and next pair (decussate) to 45 mm long, and to 4 mm wide, linear to lanceolate, and with a distinct mid-vein and distinctly blue-green in colour.
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, flowers are white to creamy-white, with a honey-perfume, arranged in spikes to 40 mm and long, on the ends of branches and is leaf axils. Each bundle of stamens can be very numerous with over 50 stamens. Plants can be very showy in summer, hence one of the common names.
The fruits are capsules. In this species, they are cylindrical, to 4 mm in diameter and the orifice approximately 2 mm diameter, produced on the flowering spike after flowering.
This plant can be grown quite readily and has been popular in larger landscapes and as street trees in some areas.
In a garden situation, it grows reliably on sandy as well as heavier soils. It can also tolerate temporary inundation. It benefits from supplementary water and will not thrive in a hot and dry and exposed area.
Flowering is best in a sunny position. The flowering can be spectacular, especially if plants are pruned and produce dense foliage.
A number of shrubby cultivars are known in general cultivation. These include:
‘Snowstorm’: a shrub to 1.5 metres
‘Sea Foam’: a larger plant to 2.5 metres and
‘Snow in Summer’ – a reliably heavy flowering cultivar, to 10 m tall.
These are very good plants for formal gardens, gap fillers, and creating a sense of density and cover.
More recent dwarf forms which have been planted out in very large numbers due to the foliage colour are:
‘Little Red’ and ‘Claret Tops’ with bright red and red-purple new growth respectively, only growing to about 1.5 metres tall with a decent spread.
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.
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.
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.
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.
linariifolia – Latin – having leaves similar to that of the genus Linaria (Toadflaxes).
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca linariifolia profile page
Gardening with Angus Website – Melaleuca linariifolia profile page
Growing Illawarra Natives – Melaleuca linariifolia profile page https://finder.growingillawarranatives.org/plants/plant/316
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.
Wikipedia – Melaleuca linariifolia and Melaleuca profile page
Craven, L.A., Edwards, R.D. and Cowley, K.J. (2014). New combinations and names in Melaleuca (Myrtaceae). Taxon 63(3): 663-670.