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Melaleuca squarrosa

Scented Paperbark

Family: Myrtaceae

A shrub to tree, growing to 12 metres tall but often seen much smaller. It has white to grey papery bark.

It occurs in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. It is very common in Tasmania and Victoria and extends into eastern South-Australia. In NSW, it extends from the south-east border area, along the coast to Sydney and Gosford, with a few disjunct records further up the north coast and northern tablelands (although these seem to be erroneous locations)

It grows in heath and dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, in damp places such as creeklines and around dams.

Leaves are oppositely arranged, with each pair of leaves orientated at right angles to the next and preceding pair (decussate); arching/curving outwards as they emerge from the stem, to 17 mm long and about 10 mm wide, flat and linear to narrow ovate, tapering to a stiff point. They are aromatic 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 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 cream-coloured and arranged in spikes, to 40 mm long and 25 mm wide, produced at the ends of branches. Each spike contains up to 20 individual flowers, occurring in spring or early summer, with a very strong perfume.

The capsules are to 4 mm long, and are produced in a woody spike-like cluster.

In the garden

This species is known to be cultivated and can be grown quite easily.

It is an attractive shrub with wafting flower-perfume that requires summer moisture to achieve full size. It will tolerate a sandy to heavier soil with adequate drainage. However, it can cope with high amounts of water.

Plant in a sunny to part-shade spot. It is useful for screens and as a barrier plant. Very showy flowers. Prune to shape, preferably after flowering.

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.

Seed is available commercially.

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.

First Nations Peoples used the paper bark for wrapping for babies, blankets, bandages, roofing; food – nectar.

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.

squarrosa – is Latin meaning “with spreading of curving parts at the extremities”, referring to the manner in which the leaves bend/curve outwards from top to bottom.

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

Yarra Ranges Council – Melaleuca squarrosa profile page
https://www.yarraranges.vic.gov.au/PlantDirectory/Shrubs/Shurbs-1.5-10-metres/Melaleuca-squarrosa

Wikipedia – Melaleuca squarrosa and Melaleuca profile pages
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_squarrosa
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca

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

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