Melaleuca nodosa

Prickly-leaved Paperbark

Family: Myrtaceae

A large shrub to small tree, growing to 10 m tall in some cases but can also be seen growing as a rounded shrub to 2 metres tall, with corky to papery bark.

It is found mainly in coastal NSW, growing north of Wollongong, throughout Sydney and into the lower Blue Mountains, extending along the entire coast, into Queensland where it extends to Rockhampton, with disjunct occurrences between Townsville and Cairns.

It grows in a wide range of habitats, such as dry sclerophyll woodlands and forests on clay and alluvial soils in western Sydney, to sandstone heathland and shrubland, to tropical savannah woodlands.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are alternate and clustered heavily and unevenly on stems, stiff, linear and prickly, to 40 mm long and to 1.5 mm wide, tapering to a sharp tip, dark green and very odorous when crushed.

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, the flowers are white to yellow and arranged in dense globular heads (shortened short spikes) on the ends of branches and upper leaf axils. Each head is up to 30 mm in diameter and contains up to 20 x 3-flowered groups. Flowering occurs from September to November, most prevalent in October and plants can be very showy and attractive, with a strong smell of honey.

The fruits are capsules. In this species, capsules are to 5 mm long and to 3 mm wide, produced in a very distinctive globular ball. This feature, plus the leaf characteristics, greatly helps identification.

In the garden

This is a plant that can be cultivated easily although it is not overly popular at present. It is well-worth doing so for the cream to yellow flowers and prickly habit which may provide shelter for birds and forage for insects.

It is adaptable over a wide range of climates and will tolerate boggy conditions to a point. It does best on well-drained soils which can be sandy to clay. Flowering occurs best in a sunny position but it can also be planted in part shade. The species often has an untidy habit of growth which may have hindered its acceptance in general horticulture. However, it could be pruned with the correct approach to create a dense and rounded shrub.

Grows naturally on coastal headlands and so may be suitable for beachside gardens.

Studies have found that this is one species that Rusa Deer will not eat.

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.

Other information

This species easily regenerates after fire, producing coppicing basal and branch shoots. It will also regenerate by seed.

Melaleuca nodosa has been recorded as a host for the mistletoe species Amyema congener, A. gaudichaudii, Dendrophthoe curvata and D. vitellina.

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.

nodosa – from Latin nodosus; meaning ‘knobby’ (the root of words like ‘nodule’) – a reference to the appearance of the fruiting capsules.

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

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca nodosa profile page                https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Melaleuca~nodosa

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 nodosa 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.

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.