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Melaleuca sieberi

Family: Myrtaceae

A small tree, usually growing to 5 metres tall, with white, grey or brown papery bark.
It occurs in coastal NSW, north from Gosford, extending northwards into Queensland, to about Bundaberg.
It is typically found in sandy dry to boggy sclerophyll woodland and forest as well as heath, usually with some swamp or moist influence.

Leaves are arranged oppositely, with each pair of leaves orientated at right angles to the next and preceding pair (decussate); to 15 mm long, and to 4 mm wide, narrow-elliptic to lanceolate and tapering to a sharp point.

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 and without a petiole (sessile) 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).

In this species, flowers are arranged in spikes on the ends of branches, to 4 cm long, with each spike containing white to pink-tinged flowers; with flowers occurring singularly or in 3s within the spike; occurring in spring.

The capsules are to 4.5 mm long, produced in woody clusters.

In the garden

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.

Propagation

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

The genus Melaleuca 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 Callistemon 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.

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

Note: re the above reclassification, there is Melaleuca sieberi and Callistemon sieberi in existence. Callistemon sieberi is synonymous with Melaleuca paludicola.

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.

sieberi – named in Honour of Franz Sieber (1789-1844), a botanist from the Czech Republic who spent 7 months in Sydney collecting over 600 plant specimens in 1823.

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

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

Plants of South Eastern NSW – Melaleuca sieberi profile page https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/melaleuca_sieberi.htm

Craven, L.A., Edwards, R.D. and Cowley, K.J. (2014). New combinations and names in Melaleuca (Myrtaceae). Taxon 63(3): 663-670.

Wikipedia – Melaleuca sieberi and Melaleuca profile pages
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_sieberi

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 Jeff Howes, edited Dan Clarke