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Melaleuca styphelioides

Prickly Paperbark

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca styphelioides, Prickly Paperbark, is a medium tree that may reach a height of 20 metres. The papery bark peels off in strips.

Leaves are ovate, dark green, up to 15 millimetres long and crowned with a sharp point (hence the common name). The prickly foliage provides nesting sites for small native birds.

Flowers are held in terminal, white, two centimetre long bottlebrush-shaped spikes. They are profusely produced in late spring and summer. Foliage, flowers and bark are all attractive features.

The Prickly Paperbark is widespread in NSW and occurs in tableland and coastal areas as well as Queensland. There are isolated populations in Victoria.

Melaleuca styphelioides grows along stream banks and low-lying areas. In cultivation the species will also survive and thrive in well-drained situations. This species will handle smog pollution and saline soils.

In the garden

The Prickly Paperbark is used as a street tree in some Sydney and Melbourne suburbs.

It is a relatively easy plant to grow and will tolerate a clay to alluvial soil. It may grow on sandy soils but possibly not as well. It can be pruned to create a dense shrub. It could be used as a feature tree in a garden, perhaps in a backyard corner with smaller shrubs underneath. The papery bark make a nice feature. 

Editor’s note: my grandparents had this tree in the corner of their large backyard in western Sydney and I often climbed up into it as a kid; reclining back on one large branch to read. The paper bark made for nice cushioning. 

It could be pruned early to create a dense shrub and might be kept smaller through pruning. It can grow into a 10 m tree or taller, so allow some room to spread. 

Very hardy generally. 

Propagation

Propagate from seed and cuttings.

Other information

This species can regenerate well after fire through epicormic shoots and basal coppicing as well as form the seed bank. 

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.

styphelioides – refers to the similarity of the leaves to species of the Styphelia genus. This species was first described in 1797 by James Edward Smith from plant material collected by David Burton near Port Jackson.

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

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

Botanic Gardens of South Australia – Plant Selector – Melaleuca styphelioides profile page http://plantselector.botanicgardens.sa.gov.au/Plants/Details/957

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