Melaleuca squamea

Swamp Honey-myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

A shrub growing to 3 metres high (sometimes to 6 metres) with corky to rough and scaly bark.

It has a large occurrence in Tasmania where it is widespread and also occurs in disjunct populations in Victoria, as well as south-eastern South Australia.

In NSW, there are populations west of Milton and Ulladulla in Morton National Park, then north around Helensburgh and Appin, extending into the Royal National Park and into Sydney, then with a big disjunction to areas such as west of Tamworth and Armidale, as well as south of Coffs Harbour and around Lismore. There are no records in Queensland.

It tends to be found in wet heath or shrubland to moist woodland on boggy sands or sandstone.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are alternate to radiate and crowded on stems, with overlapping bases, to 12 mm long and to 3 mm wide, linear to narrow-elliptic and tapering to a soft 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 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 a petiole (sessile).

In this species, flowers are primarily lilac to mauve, sometimes white or yellowish. They are arranged in heads (short spikes), up to 20 mm in diameter, in leaf axils or on the ends of branches. Each head contains up to 30 individual flowers, occurring in spring.

The capsules are to 7 mm long and remain unopened on the stems for several years, without sepals.

In the garden

This plant is cultivated and can be purchased online and at some nurseries.

It is a useful plant in any garden, as a screen, gap filler or specimen. It is frost and drought tolerant and will tolerate poor drained sites. It does not do well in lime-based or saline soils. Plant in full sun for best results.

Although naturally growing in wet situations, it is reported to grow in drier situations.
Has very attractive foliage and the purple flowers add to its beauty. It will likely attract bees and other insects to 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.


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

Response to fire is unknown. Most Melaleuca species easily regenerates after fire, producing coppicing basal and branch shoots. It will also regenerate by seed.

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 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.

squamea – Latin – squama meaning “scale” or “scaly”, referring to the scaly bark of this species.

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

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Melaleuca squamea profile page

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Melaleuca profile page https://anpsa.org.au/genera/melaleuca

Wikipedia – Melaleuca squamea 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