Melaleuca bracteata

black tea-tree


Melaleuca bracteata 'Revolution Green'

F.Muell. 1858

pronounced: mel-luh-LOO-kuh brack-tee-AH-tuh

(Myrtaceae — the gum family)


common names: black tea-tree, mock olive

native 4Melaleuca is a word formed from two Greek words, μελας (melas) black, and λευκος (leucos) white; bracteata is botanical Latin for ‘having bracts.’

This is an Australian native that occurs right across the top end of Australia, and down the east coast as far as northern NSW. It usually grows in swampy or soakage situations in areas that are otherwise predominantly open forest, but is also found on the edge of gallery forest, vine scrub and monsoon forest. It has become popular as a small street tree and as a hedge plant; although in suitable conditions it can grow into a tree up to about 6 m tall, it usually flowers and fruits as a shrub 3 -4 m high. The council has recently planted quite a number of these trees to replace trees destroyed in Cyclone Yasi.

The bark is dark grey, and splits into shallow fissures. The rich dark green leaf blades usually vary from about 8 to 20 mm in length and 1 to 3 mm in width, either sessile or on very short petioles. The young leaves and twigs are clothed in silky white more-or-less-erect hairs. The venation is longitudinal, and indistinct. There are numerous oil dots, more easily seen when the leaf is viewed from below. The twigs are densely clothed in pale, tortuous hairs.

The inflorescence is 1 – 2 cm long, with the creamy-white flowers borne either singly or in threes, in the axils of quite well-developed leaves, and are very attractive to birds. The petals are shed early, leaving the 100 or so stamens, 7 or 8 mm long, more-or-less fused in 5 bundles.

The sessile fruits are more-or-less globular, only about 2 or 3 mm in diameter, with 5 calyx lobes persistent at the apex. The fruits are aggregated into cylindrical masses along sections of the twigs.

There are several forms and cultivars of this attractive tree, making a diverse group varying from prostrate ground cover to large trees; but the majority of them are small to large shrubs with dense fine foliage, a very adaptable group very suitable to areas with heavy clay soils or poor drainage. They produce copious nectar for honey bees, and essential oils can be distilled from them for the medical and cosmetic industries.

The tree requires little maintenance, but it can become woody in the middle if it is not trimmed. It responds well to trimming, putting out thick new growth. It prefers an open and sunny position.

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

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


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2014, 2015, 2019
Page last updated 8th June 2019