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Last Updated: Spring 2012
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Synonyms: Melaleuca leucadendron auct. non (L.) L.

Family: Myrtaceae

Home Range/U.S. Introduction:
Melaleuca quinquenervia (Cav.) Blake is native to the Australian region and was introduced into southern Florida in the early 1900’s as an ornamental and to help dry up swamps (Thayer & Bodle 1990, Langeland 1990). In the late 1940's, hundreds of thousands of seedlings were planted at Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to provide erosion protection for the levees surrounding the lake. Aerial surveys conducted during the late 1980’s in the counties south of Lake Okeechobee indicated that as many 157,000 ha had populations of melaleuca, and of this total, 18,900 ha consisted of monocultural stands (Thayer & Bodle 1990).

U.S. Range Map:

USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 18 June 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Species Description:
Melaleuca is an evergreen tree with a slender, much-branched, somewhat columnar crown. The bark is thick, spongy, whitish at first, exfoliating in buffish to pale cinnamon-colored, many-papery layers. The leaves are aromatic, simple, stiff, lanceolate to oblanceolate, very short-petiolate; 4 to 12 cm long, 0.6 to 2.5 cm wide, arranged in 5 spiral rows. Leaf blade tips are pointed or narrowly rounded, blades at first densely silvery, silky, appressed pubescent, later glabrous, dull green on both surfaces and dotted with reddish punctations. Principal veins number about 5, mostly parallel. Flowers are white, crowded in terminal spikes or panicles of spikes on woody axes. Stamens are numerous and conspicuous giving the inflorescence a bottle-brush aspect. The fruit is a woody capsule with many (about 250) very tiny seeds.

Habitat/Growth Characteristics:
Melaleuca grows in a wide variety of habitats from dry sand to areas covered with several feet of water and has invaded large areas of the Everglades. It reproduces by seed and sprouts from roots and the lower portion of the trunk (Tarver et al. 1986). About 10 to 20 percent of the several million seed held in capsules of a single tree are estimated to be viable; however, only a small percentage of seed establish as seedlings (Thayer & Bodle 1990). Death of the aerial portion of trees results in both seed release and sprouting. The growth rate of the trees is impressive, amounting to meters per year in some habitats.

Once established, the trees of melaleuca form a dense canopy shading out or preventing establishment of native vegetation that results in reduced value for wildlife (Tarver et al. 1986). Water and nutrient uptake by these trees also is a problem in south Florida. Melaleuca quinquenervia is listed as a Florida Prohibited Aquatic Plant.

Langeland, K. 1990. Controlling Melaleuca, trees from hell. Aquatics 12(3):10,12,14.Thayer, D. D. and M. Bodle. 1990. Melaleuca quinquenervia (Cav.) S. T. Blake: The paperbark tree in Florida or an Aussie out of control. Aquatics 12(3):4-6,8-9.

Tarver, D. P., J. A. Rogers, M. J. Mahler, and R. L. Lazor. 1986. Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Florida. Third Edition. Florida Department of Natural Resources, Tallahassee, Florida.