A small tree with small leaves, growing up to 6 m and found in marshy areas; now cultivated on plantations.

This large genus of some 150 species of evergreen trees and shrubs is distributed mainly in Australia. Closely related to Callistemon (bottlebrushes), many are cultivated for their spiky, often brightly colored flowers, though some species are difficult to tell apart. They may be grown outdoors in mild areas or under cover in cool temperate regions. Melaleucas are rich in germicidal volatile oils, notably cineole (as found in Eucalyptus, See, Eucalyptus), which can irritate skin and mucous membranes. The cineole content varies according to species, genetic constitution, and growing conditions. The best tea tree oil (from M. alternifolia) has a higher proportion of terpenes, notably terpinen-4-ol, which is an excellent, non-irritant antiseptic. Tea tree oil was used by Australian forces in World War II for dressing wounds. After the war, as synthetic pharmaceuticals gained favor, production almost ceased. Research during the 1990s revived interest in its antiseptic properties, which are effective against a wide range of pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant "superbugs". Cajuput oil was first exported from Malaysia in the 17th century — hence its name, which is derived from the Malaysian kayu-puti, "white wood". It is obtained mainly from M. leucandendra (sometimes spelled leucadendron) and the closely related M. cajuputi. Melaleuca quinquenervia as well as M. viridifolia yield a similar oil (niaouli) that is used in perfumery and has strong antiseptic properties, especially against yeast.

Large tree with pale, peeling bark, slender drooping branches, and narrow, pointed leaves, to 23cm (9in) long. Slender, creamy-white flower spikes, 6-15cm (2½-6in) long, appear mainly in summer and autumn.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Weeping Tea Tree, Weeping Paperbark
Botanical Name:
Melaleuca leucadendra
Native Location:
Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Moluccas to N and W Australia
Moisture-retentive to wet, neutral to acid soil in sun; M. leucadendra tolerates light to saline soils. Pinch out young, pot growing plants to induce bushiness.
By seed sown in spring at 13-24°C (55-75°F); by semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Oil is distilled from leaves and twigs, used directly, or in spirits and ointments.
10m (30ft)
Min. 15-18°C (59-64°F)
Parts Used:
A stimulant, antiseptic herb with a strong, camphoraceous aroma. It is expectorant, relieves spasms, increases perspiration, and expels intestinal parasites.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for bronchitis, tuberculosis, colds, sinusitis, gastric infections, and roundworms. Contraindicated during pregnancy. Externally for rheumatism, gout, neuralgia, acne, nasal congestion, sinusitis, toothache, chilblains, and skin diseases. An antiseptic and painkiller in aromatherapy.
Economic Uses:
Oil is used in perfumery, detergents, soaps, and insect-repellents.
Subject to legal restrictions in some countries, in the form of cajuput oil.
The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. Pg. 273