Melaleuca quinquenervia

Broad-leaved Paperbark

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca quinquernervia is a medium to tall tree, growing to 15 metres tall with a canopy spread to 5 metres. The bark is papery and peels off in strips.

It naturally grows as far south as Botany Bay in NSW, extending north, mostly close to the coast, almost continuously into Queensland. It extends up most of the Queensland coast, right up to Cape York and into New Guinea. It also grows on New Caledonia.

It commonly grows in coastal swamplands and woodlands, often forming its own vegetation type (i.e. Melaleuca-swamp woodland), usually on sandy to sandy-alluvial soils.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are alternate, lanceolate to elliptic, to 70 mm long and about 25 mm wide, usually with five prominent veins and with a stiff, leathery texture.

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 held in bottlebrush-like spikes up to 5 cm long, white or cream, with flowers clustered in 3s within the spike, and bearing up to 50 stamens, appearing in autumn and winter. Flowers attract nectar feeding birds and flying foxes.

The fruits are capsules. In this species, they are to 5 mm in diameter, produced on the flowering spike after flowering.

In the garden

The Broad-leaved Paperbark has been used as a street tree and would be at home as a specimen tree or as a component of shelterbelts and windbreaks.

It is a hardy tree and usually grows well in a variety of situations with very little maintenance. Early pruning might encourage a dense bushy habit. It can grow into a large-ish tree, so some space is required. Flowers are very attractive to birds and bees. Papery bark is also an attraction.

Tolerates a range of soils.

The wood may be used for light construction but saws and planes are blunted because timber contains silica. Timber in the round is used for house stumps and fence posts.


Propagate from seed and possibly cuttings.

Other information

First Nations Peoples of Australia used the bark for wrapping and cooking food. They also used an infusion of the leaves as a treatment for coughs and colds.

Melaleuca quinquernervia is a serious environmental weed in Florida, USA. It is given the name there of “Punk Tree”.

The Editor has seen this species used in landscaping in Singapore. You can also see this tree growing well in its natural habitat if you are coming to land in a plane at Gold Coast Airport, Queensland, where it adjoins the airport in large stands of swampy habitat.

This species grows mainly in swampy environments so not overly prone to fires. However, it can regenerate from branch buds and suckering as well as from the seed bank.

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.

quinquenervia – Latin quinque meaning “five” and nervia meaning the leaf “veins” or “nerves” – referring to the five conspicuous veins in the leaves.

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

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

Gardening with Angus – Melaleuca quinquenervia profile page https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/melaleuca-quinquenervia/

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.