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M. armillaris foliage and flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Myrtales
Family: Myrtaceae
Subfamily: Myrtoideae
Tribe: Melaleuceae
Genus: Melaleuca
L. nom. cons.

Over 200; see List of Melaleuca species


Cajuputi Adans.
Callistemon R.Br.
Gymnagathis Schauer
Kajuputi Adans.
Meladendron St.-Lag.
Melaleucon St.-Lag.
Melanoleuca St.-Lag.
Myrtoleucodendron Kuntze[1]

Melaleuca (pronounced /ˌmɛləˈljuːkə/)[2] is a genus of plants in the myrtle family Myrtaceae. There are well over 200 recognized species, most of which are endemic to Australia.[3] A few species occur in Malesia and 7 species are endemic to New Caledonia.[3][4] The species are shrubs and trees growing (depending on species) to 2–30 m (6.6–98 ft) tall, often with flaky, exfoliating bark. The leaves are evergreen, alternately arranged, ovate to lanceolate, 1–25 cm (0.39–9.8 in) long and 0.5–7 cm (0.20–2.8 in) broad, with an entire margin, dark green to grey-green in colour. The flowers are produced in dense clusters along the stems, each flower with fine small petals and a tight bundle of stamens; flower colour varies from white to pink, red, pale yellow or greenish. The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous minute seeds.

Melaleuca is closely related to Callistemon, the main difference between the genera being that the stamens are generally free in Callistemon but grouped into bundles in Melaleuca.

In the wild, Melaleuca plants are generally found in open forest, woodland or shrubland, particularly along watercourses and the edges of swamps.

The best-accepted common name for Melaleuca is simply melaleuca; however most of the larger species are also known as paperbarks, and the smaller types as honey myrtles. They are also sometimes referred to as punk trees.[5]

One well-known melaleuca, the Ti tree (aka tea tree), Melaleuca alternifolia, is notable for its essential oil which is both anti-fungal, and antibiotic, while safely usable for topical applications. This is produced on a commercial scale, and marketed as Tea Tree Oil. The Ti tree is presumably named for the brown colouration of many water courses caused by leaves shed from trees of this and similar species (for a famous example see Brown Lake (Stradbroke Island)). The name "tea tree" is also used for a related genus, Leptospermum. Both Leptospermum and Melaleuca are myrtles of the family, Myrtaceae.

In Australia, Melaleuca species are sometimes used as food plants by the larvae of hepialid moths of the genus Aenetus including A. ligniveren. These burrow horizontally into the trunk then vertically down.

Melaleucas are popular garden plants, both in Australia and other tropical areas worldwide. In Hawaiʻi and the Florida Everglades, Melaleuca quinquenervia (Broad-leaved Paperbark) was introduced in order to help drain low-lying swampy areas. It has since gone on to become a serious invasive weed with potentially very serious consequences being that the plants are highly flammable and spread aggressively. Melaleuca populations have nearly quadrupled in southern Florida over the past decade, as can be noted on IFAS's SRFer Mapserver

The genus Callistemon was recently placed into Melaleuca.




Traditional Aboriginal uses

Australian Aborigines used the leaves traditionally for many medicinal purposes, including chewing the young leaves to alleviate headache and for other ailments.

The softness and flexibility of the paperbark itself made it an extremely useful tree to aboriginal people. It was used to line coolamons when used as cradles, as a bandage, as a sleeping mat, and as material for building humpies. It was also used for wrapping food for cooking (in the same way aluminium foil is today), as a disposable raincoat, and for tamping holes in canoes. In the Gadigal language, it is called Bujor. [6]

Modern uses

Scientific studies have shown that tea tree oil made from Melaleuca alternifolia is a highly effective topical antibacterial and antifungal, although it may be toxic when ingested internally in large doses or by children. In rare cases, topical products can be absorbed by the skin and result in toxicity.

The oils of Melaleuca can be found in organic solutions of medication that claims to eliminate warts, including the Human papillomavirus. No scientific evidence proves this claim (reference: "Forces of Nature: Warts No More").

Melaleuca oils are the active ingredient in Burn-Aid, a popular minor burn first aid treatment (an offshoot of the brandname Band-Aid).

Melaleuca oils (tea tree oil) is also used in many pet fish remedies (such as Melafix and Bettafix) to treat bacterial and fungal infections. Bettafix is a lighter dilution of tea tree oil while Melafix is a stronger dilution. It is most commonly used to promote fin and tissue regrowth. The remedies are often associated with Betta fish (Siamese Fighting Fish) but are also used with other fish.


Melaleucas were introduced to Florida in the United States in the early 20th century to assist in drying out swampy land and as garden plants. Once widely planted in Florida, it formed dense thickets and displaced native vegetation on 391,000 acres (1,580 km2) of wet pine flatwoods, sawgrass marshes, and cypress swamps in the southern part of the state. [It is prohibited by DEP and listed as a noxious weed by FDACS.[7].]

See also


  1. ^ "Melaleuca L.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2009-01-27. Retrieved 2009-11-10.  
  2. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. ^ a b Craven, Lyn. "Melaleuca group of genera". Center for Plant Biodiversity Research. Retrieved 2008-04-08.  
  4. ^ "Genre Melaleuca L.". Endémía - Faune & Flore de Nouvelle-Calédonie. Retrieved 2008-04-08.  
  5. ^ "Melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia)". University of Florida. Retrieved 2008-05-10.  
  6. ^ Aboriginal bush foods
  7. ^ "Melaleuca". Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted. National Park Service (United States). 27 June 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-13.  
  • Takarada K et al. (2004). "A comparison of the antibacterial efficacies of essential oils against oral pathogens". Oral Microbiol. Immunol. 19 (1): 61–64. doi:10.1046/j.0902-0055.2003.00111.x.  
  • Hammer KA et al. (2003). "Susceptibility of oral bacteria to Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in vitro". Oral Microbiol. Immunol. 18 (6): 389–392. doi:10.1046/j.0902-0055.2003.00105.x.  
  • Hammer KA et al. (2003). "Antifungal activity of the components of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil". J. Appl. Microbiol. 95 (4): 853–860. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2672.2003.02059.x.  
  • Oliva B et al. (2003). "Antimycotic activity of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil and its major components". Lett. Appl. Microbiol. 37 (2): 185–187. doi:10.1046/j.1472-765X.2003.01375.x.  
  • Mondello F et al. (2003). "In vitro and in vivo activity of tea tree oil against azole-susceptible and -resistant human pathogenic yeasts". J. Antimicrob. Chemother. 51 (5): 1223–1229. doi:10.1093/jac/dkg202. PMID 12668571.  

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