Melaleuca violacea

Family: Myrtaceae

Melaleuca violacea is a small shrub, reaching a height of less 1 metre with a spread of 1.5 metres.

It is another endmic melaleuca to the south-west of Western Australia, mainly found along the south coast stretch, to about 100 km inland, between Bridgetown and Bremer Bay and further north in Fitzgerald National Park.

It is found on swamp margins and lower slopes and well as ridges in heathland, shrubland and mallee woodland, on sandy and lateritic soils as well as limestone.

This species has layered branches that form an interesting flat top.

Melaleuca spp. can present with simple and alternate or opposite leaves. In this species, leaves are opposite and decussate (with each pair of leaves orientated as right angles to the adjacent pairs, to 10 mm long and about 8 mm wide, heart-shaped (cordate) and generally dull 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, mauve-purple flowers are carried in lateral or axillary clusters during spring; each flower about 2 cm wide; the clusters are small but what the blooms lack in size they make up for in quantity. During the flowering period the stems are covered in flowers. Both flowers and the distinctive growth habit are eye-catching features.

The woody capsules are about 6 mm wide with the orifce presenting a pentagonal shape.

In the garden

This species is known to be cultivated commonly. It reportedly grows well on the east coast of Australie but does not flower well in subtropical to troipcal areas.

Melaleuca violacea could be grown as a mounded ground cover in rockeries and native cottage gardens. The species would not look out of place in a Japanese-style garden.

The purple flowers are a very striking feature along with the architectural foliage.

Best grown in a sunny position with reasonable drainage.


Propagate from cuttings or seed.

Other information

When living in the Blue Mountains last century, we often made pilgrimages to Sid Cadwell’s Boongala nursery at Annangrove near Windsor. Sid’s nursery was well-stocked with a wide and interesting range of native plants. The nursery was surrounded by a large garden that bulged at seams with native plants. We often spied specimens that we did not recognise. Sid was always ready with information about the relevant plant. Once Sid realised that you were as passionate about native plants as he was, then not only was he generous with information but also with cutting material from his garden. Thanks to Sid’s generosity this was how we first acquired Melaleuca violacea.

The type specimen was named in 1844 from material collected near Albany, Western Australia.

During a roadside stop, on a coach tour in Western Australia, we found populations of Melaleuca violacea colonising roadside verges.

This species likely regenerates from the seeed bank after fire.

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, 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.

violacea – Latin “violet” – named for the purple flowers.

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

Western Australian Herbarium. Florabase: The Western Australian Flora: Melaleuca violacea profile page https://florabase.dbca.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/5988

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

Geographe Community Landcare Nursery – Melaleuca violacea profile page https://gcln.com.au/product/melaleuca-violacea/

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