Melaleuca tortifolia

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca tortifolia is a tall shrub reaching a height of 5 metres by 3 metres wide, with papery-bark.

It is a rare species, endemic to NSW, occurring in two separate locations on the edge of the Northern Tablelands and North Coast subdivisions; on Barren Mountain (west of Dorrigo) and further north-west in Gibraltar National Park (north-east of Glen Innes).

It grows in heathland in damp sites, often close to high-altitude swamps, on enriched soils.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are opposite to sub-opposite, ovate, to 15 mm long by 4 mm wide, with 3 longitudinal veins and distinctly twisted, with an acute apex; mid-green in colour.

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 carried in short heads or spikes, 2 centimetres long and wide; consisting of staminate flowers in groups of 3s; each flower about 6 mm wide, white and sometimes pink; appearring in spring.

The fruit is a capsule, to 6 mm in diameter.

In the garden

This species, despite being rare, is known to be cultivated and is a hardy plant in the right conditions. It can be planted on a range of soils in full sun – possibly needing some moisture in hard times. Excellent frost tolerance.

This species could be grown as a foliage plant with the flowers as a bonus. The foliage is dense and would provide safe nesting sites for small native birds.

It is not as spectacularly-flowered as others in the genus but worth growing due to its rarity.


Melaleuca tortifolia, although rare in nature, propagates readily from both seed and cuttings.


Other information

The species was named in 1984 from material collected in New England National Park.

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

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.

tortifolia – Latin – tortus meaning “twisted” and –folia (leaves) – capturing the twisted leaves of the species.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. It is rare but conserved in conservation areas.

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

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

Wikipedia – Melaleuca tortifolia profile page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_tortifolia

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