Melaleuca viridiflora

broad-leafed paperbark


Melaleuca viridiflora

Sol. ex Gaertn. 1788

pronounced: mel-luh-LOO-kuh vih-rid-ih-FLOR-uh

(Myrtaceae — the gum family)


common name: broad-leafed paperbark

native 4Melaleuca is derived from the Greek μελας (melas) black, and λευκος (leukos) white, referring to black marks on the white bark, caused by fire; viridiflora is from the Latin viridis, green and floreo, to bloom.

This is a small, erect or straggly tree, 3 – 10 m in height, native to woodlands, swamps and streams of monsoonal northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. There are several varieties, var. attenuata, var. canescens and var. glabra, that differ from the main species in minor features of foliage and flowers. There are numbers of these trees close to the Horseshoe Bay road.

This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).

The bark is grey to cream, fibrous and in papery layers. The leaves are aromatic, broad, oval, flat, stiff, thick, smooth, and a dull dark green in colour, with 5–7 longitudinal veins. They are usually between 7 and 19 cm in length and 2.5 to 5.5 cm in width, and new growth is hairy.

The flowers are usually greenish cream, but a small percentage of the trees produce pink to red blooms. These are borne on dense cylindrical spikes, the spikes bring single, or in groups of 2 to 4.

The seed is formed in small woody capsules about 5 mm in size.

The tree is found growing on a wide variety of soils, but does particularly well on heavy clays that are waterlogged in the wet season. This Melaleuca is easily propagated from either seed or cuttings. Red-flowered ones should be propagated from cuttings, to ensure that they propagate true to type.

The tree was used by Aborigines in many ways. The bark was peeled off and used for shelter, bedding, containers, storing and cooking food, tinder for lighting fires, to make water craft and fish traps, and for wrapping corpses.

The large Melasleucas produce a moderately durable timber, traditionally used by the indigenous peoples for making canoes, and with a long history of use as fence posts, railway sleepers and pit props. Where the trunks are straight enough, the timber can be sawn into planks, and used for such purposes as flooring. It must, however, been very carefully dried and seasoned, as it is prone to splitting and warping. The wood can also be used in charcoal-making, and for woodchip production.

The heartwood is pinkish brown in colour, with the sapwood distinctly paler. The grain is often interlocked, and the timber has a fine and even texture.

Melaleucas are food plants for the larvae of, among others:

      • the moth Cotana serranotata; and
      • the moth Ophiusa discriminans.

The essential oil (Niaouli Oil) extracted from the young leaves and twigs of this tree by steam distillation is used in aromatherapy for its antiseptic and stimulating properties. It has a slightly sweet, fresh smell and is either colourless or varying from pale yellow to greenish. It is used to treat bronchitis, catarrh, laryngitis and sinus problems, colds, fevers, flu, tuberculosis and pneumonia, as well as acne, boils, burns, ulcers and cuts. I quote from an advertisement of the oil:
Its aroma is stimulating and uplifting; it clears the head and may aid in concentration. Niaouli oil is considered an excellent antiseptic for treating pulmonary infections such as bronchitis and sinisitis (sic). For respiratory problems blends well with Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Pine, Myrtle, and Ravensara (another favourite for respiratory infections). Niaouli may be used in place of Tea Tree Oil when the smell of Tea Tree is found objectionable due to its somewhat medicinal aroma. The medicinal and aromatic properties of the two are considered similar, with Niaouli having a somewhat less harsh scent.

Another advertisement suggests: For muscular problems: massage the painful area with a few drops of the essence. For colds: put a few drops on your pillow or in a perfume diffuser. Perfume the bathwater. Repel insects.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken on the Horseshoe Bay road 2009
Page last updated 3rd February 2019