Gardening

'Tea tree" is a misnomer, because that term also applies to Leptospermum species, while Melaleuca species are actually paperbarks. This has caused confusion and the widely held belief that the tea trialed by the Cook expedition was prepared from Melaleuca, which is not recommended.

Tea tree (M. alternifolia) is plantation-grown in Australia for high-quality essential oil. The species grows to about 23 ft. (7 m) and occurs naturally on the warm east coast of Australia, where it is often associated with swampy conditions.

M. leucadendron, a tall species, is the source of cajeput oil. Both M. viridiflora and M. quinquenervia are sources of niaouli oil, used in perfumery and as an antiseptic. All four species have whitish, layered, papery bark, stiff pointed narrow linear (M. alternifolia) or oval smooth leaves, and profuse, intensely honey-scented bottlebrush inflorescences, which are white, except in M. viridiflora where they are greenish white or, rarely, pink to red. Trees may literally drip nectar.

• Position The species of Melaleuca described require an acid, very moist soil, full sun and warm conditions.

• Propagation All species can be grown by seed, but trees with desirable chemotypes are raised by seed from selected trees or by cuttings.

• Maintenance Irrigation is important.

• Pests and diseases None of note.

• Harvesting and storing Trees are cut for foliage, which is water- or steam-distilled and cured for 6 weeks.

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