Melaleuca thymifolia

Thyme-leaf Honey-myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca thymifolia, Thyme-leaf Honey-myrtle, is one of a number of small melaleucas that reach a maximum height of about 1.5 metres, spreading to 3 metres.

It occurs in NSW, growing from as far south as near Termeil on the south coast, extending north commonly through the Nowra-Wollongong and Sydney areas then commonly up the coast to the Queensland border. It also extends west to Dubbo-area and extends northwards to Baradine and a bit further north. It extends into Queensland, along the coast and through the Jennings-Stanthorpe area, as far north as near Agnes Water and as far north-west about 100 km north-west of Augathella.

It tends to be found in moister areas in dry sclerophyll woodland and forest and well as swampy shrublands, often on moist-sandy to alluvial soils.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are opposite to slightly alternate, narriow-elliptic to 15 mm long, to 3 mm wide with ana cute apex, bluish-green and spicily aromatic when crushed (reflecting the species and common names).

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 axillary spikes on old wood, shaped as rounded clusters / spikes to about 3 cm long and wide, consisting of around 5 to 10 flowers, with multiple spikes spread continuously along branches; each flower about 5 mm long with the staminal claws curving inward and exserted to about 15 mm long; usually mauve-purple but there are other colour forms (see below). Plants may carry blooms for 8 months of the year, with the main flowering spring.

The furit is a capsule. In this species, it is to cup-shaped to barrel-shaped to 5 mm long by 5 mm wide.

In the garden

A very common plant in cultivation. It is usually easily sourced from native and other larger retail nurseries.

It tolerates a dry to moist location in full sun to part shade. It usually needs reliable moisture to do its best.

Plants flower for most of the year, usually taking a rest in winter. Tip pruning will prevent plants becoming dishevelled.

There are a number of cultivars including ‘Pink Lace’, ‘White Lace’ and a compact, low growing form known as ‘Little Beauty’. We have found that the conventional form with mauve-purple flowers is the most vigorous.

It can spread into a dense shrub, creating good bird-habitat.


Propagate from seed and cuttings.

Other information

This species can regenerates after fire, from basal and branch shoots as well as seed.

The genus Melelauca 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.

thymifolia – Latin – having foliage like the genus Thymus (Thyme).

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

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

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 (ANPSA) – Melaleuca thymifolia profile page https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profile/melaleuca-thymifolia

By Warren and Gloria Sheather. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke