Leptospermum madidum

weping tea-tree


Leptospermum madidum ssp. sativum

A.R.Bean 1992

pronounced: lep-toh-SPER-mum MAD-id-um subspecies sat-EYE-vum

(Myrtaceae — the gum family)

synonym — Leptospermum longifolium

A.Cunn. 1841

pronounced: lep-toh-SPER-mum long-ee-FOH-lee-um

common names: weeping tea-tree, whitewood

native 4Leptospermum erives from two Greek words, λεπτος (leptos), thin, fine or delicate, and σπερμα (sperma), a seed; madidus is a Latin adjective meaning ‘moist, soaked or drenched’; it can also mean ‘drunk’! sativum is from the Latin sativus, cultivated. Until quite recently the tree was known by the synonym, a Latin word meaning ‘long leaf’. The range of the Leptospermum genus, which is sometimes placed in its own sub-family Leptospermoideae of the Myrtaceae family, covers south-east Asia, New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. About 80 species are endemic to Australia.

Leptospermum madidum ssp. sativum is an attractive small weeping tree native to the Northern Territory. It is now fairly common on Magnetic Island and in Townsville gardens, and is often mistaken for a weeping willow by visitors from the UK. The branches are beautifully pendulous, and the smooth bark peels off in curly strips. The fresh bark is brownish pink, and then becomes creamy white. The tree photographed is in my garden, and is much used as a shelter by the curlews.

Where the tree occurs naturally, it is usually found along watercourses and in sandstone gorges, typically right beside the water. It can grow up to 8 metres high, and usually flowers in July. The leaves are alternate, and the very tiny flowers solitary or two or more together, at ends of short branches or in leaf axils. Bees are attracted to the flowers, often in such large numbers that the buzzing can be heard some distance away.

There is another subspecies, ssp. madidum, which has broader leaves and larger fruits. It occurs naturally on Cape York.

The common name tea-tree, as with the Melaleuca, indicates that the early settlers made tea from an infusion of its leaves.

Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2008, 2009
Page last updated 27th January 2019