How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Melaleuca Quinquenervia

Thinking of adding a Melaleuca Tree to your home landscape or garden area? This tree can be considered invasive due to it’s extremely fast growth rates, and quickly expanding roots. You’ll want to consider all the facts before adding one of these trees to your home or garden. Find out all you need to know about planting, growing, and caring for this majestic tree.

Have you been eyeing the Melaleuca Quinquenervia also known as “Paperbark” to spruce up your garden? Well, this guide tells you everything that you need to know to plant, grow and care for the Australian native Melaleuca tree.

The history of the plant will get explained along with the best conditions to facilitate growth. Because this tree is a special case when it comes to its status as an invasive species, we’ve also answered some frequently asked questions regarding the Melaleuca Quinquenervia.

If you can look past any hazards, or if you live in an area that is unaffected by the tree, no worries! By the end of the article, you will be ready to plant, grow and care for your very own Melaleuca tree!

Melaleuca Quinquenervia Overview

Tall Paperbark Tree
Melaleuca trees grow to be very large.
Plant Type
Tree (Large)
Plant Family
Myrtaceae
Plant Genus
Melaleuca
Plant Species
Melaleuca quinquenervia
Climate
Subtropical, Tropical
Growth Habits
Spreading, Evergreen
Other Names
Paperbark, Niaouli
Plant Height
25-80 feet
Plant Width
15-30 feet
Flower Color
Cream, White
Flowering Seasons
Summer, Autumn
Soil Type
Clay, Sandy, Loamy, Saline
pH Level
Neutral, Acid
Watering Needs
Medium
Sun Exposure
Partial Shade, Sunny
Attracts
Birds, Bees, Butterflies
Propagation
Cuttings, Seeds
Uses
Bird Nesting, Tea, Oil

What is an Invasive Tree Species?

The term invasive species describes any species which presents a significant threat to native habitats and species throughout the country. Moreover, these invasive species are costly for agriculture, forestry, and recreation.

Trees that have become invasive have typically spread outside of their natural ranges by human means. When a species of tree is not native to an ecosystem, and it gets determined that their presence will harm the environment or the economy, it is deemed invasive.

Status of the Paperbark Tree

Row of Paperbark Trees
Selling, cultivating, or transporting Melaleuca trees is illegal in Florida due to how they can ruin ecosystems.

The Melaleuca quinquenervia is an exotic tree that has aggressively invaded many ecosystems in south Florida, including the Everglades. This tree got introduced during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Ever since its introduction, it has been an unwelcome guest plaguing the land and the air.

This specific species of tree is by far the most troublesome plant species in Florida. This factor has to do with its wide range of distribution, its rapid seed production, and the potential detrimental effect on human health.

The Melaleuca is a problem on many fronts; it degrades wildlife habitations, displaces native plant species, is a fire hazard, and poses health problems. In 1990 and 1993, Florida passed laws that forbid the cultivation, sale, and transportation of this particular plant species. In 1992 the United States Department of Agriculture placed the Melaleuca Quinquenervia on their Noxious Weed List.

Ironically, even though the M. quinquenervia is considered a tremendous pest in south Florida’s ecosystems, it is a threatened species in Australia, where it is native. As a result, conservation groups in  Australia advocate to protect it.

In Australia, the habitat of Melaleuca quinquenervia consists of low-lying, high rainfall areas in the coastal regions of Australia mainly. The remaining M. quinquenervia in Australia resides on privately owned land. Unfortunately, there is currently clearing for commercial development occurring.

Melaleuca Quinquenervia

White Flowers of the Paperbark Tree
Melaleuca quinquenervia trees have white bottlebrush flowers that grow in summer and autumn.

The M. quinquenervia is considered a medium-sized to a tall tree. This tree grows anywhere from 8 to 25 meters tall and 5 to 10 meters wide. The tree is a beautiful feature tree that has flowers with white bottlebrushes. The flowers appear in the late summer and end in autumn. These trees are extremely appealing to nectar-eating wildlife.

This species of trees can stand up to both very dry and very conditions. This tree can be a branching spreading tree, or you can prune it down to a trunk if you desire.

Due to the fact it is a large plant, the root system should be checked and taken care of as they can become a problem if neglected. The leaves of the tree have some utility as they are used to make cineole-rich essential oils. The bark is useful as well as it can be used for lining cradles, wrapping food for cooking, bandages, or even to stuff a pillow.

In Australia, the tree grows naturally from Cape York, Queensland, to Sydney. As it pertains to America, the tree has been deemed a noxious weed in six states where the tree has overrun precious ecosystems.

The paperbark tree can resprout prolifically from epicormic shoots after disastrous bushfires. They are so robust that within weeks after being burnt, the species has recorded flowering again. These trees can live up to 100 years and more.

Characteristics

Flowers and Seeds of the Niaouli Tree
Papery bark covers the tree’s trunks, and its branches are tipped with white spiked flowers.

The young growth of the tree possesses both short and long soft hairs. The leaves are leather-like and flat and can be either egg or lance-shaped in the color green or grey. The leaves are 55–120 mm long and 10–31 mm wide.

The flowers grow into spikes at the end of the branches, and these continue growing even after flowering. The spikes will typically include 5 to 18 groups of flowers in threes. These are 20–50 mm long, and the petals are 3 mm and will fall off as the flower progresses in age.

You’ll find that the stamens are greenish, cream-colored, or white. Moreover, situated in five bundles around the flower. Each bundle has 5 to 10 stamens. Flowering will take place from spring to the beginning of autumn.

After the flowering process, fruit is soon coming. This fruit is woody and cylindrical capsules in shape, and they can be  2.5–4 mm long. These will be spiked along the branches and clustered. The capsules all contain many small seeds, about 250-300, that are released every year.

Natural Occurrence

Tall Niaouli Tree
Paperbark trees will not flower until they are at least three years old.

Flowering usually starts at the age of three, and seedlings that are a bit less than a meter are likely to bloom. These white are in white bottlebrush spikes that are 3 to 8 cm long.

Flowering happens every month except February, March, and April. Soon after flowering, the twigs will continue to lengthen from the ends of spikes. They will produce flowers or even more leaves.

The trees themselves will bloom approximately two to five times per year. However, region-wide flowering happens a minimum of two times a year. The type of soil may affect the flowering as well heavier rainfall is likely to induce flowering as well.

Seed Production and Dissemination

Flowers and Seeds of the Paperbark Tree
Hundreds of seeds are stored in each of the many tiny capsules left by the flowers.

The Melaleuca has reproduced quickly at a staggering rate. You may be surprised to learn that 30 sessile seed capsules get left by one flower spike. A single branch will have 8 to 12 of these branches. The capsules are woody, hard, brown, and cylindrical. A typical tree can hold seeds for as long as ten years.

One capsule will contain anywhere from 200 to 350 seeds. Surprisingly the seeds are not released at maturity as you might expect. Instead, frost, wind breakage, natural pruning, fire, or damage via people will cause them to burst and spread.

Even though a large number of seeds are released after the capsule has been compromised, seed fall can happen all year. Furthermore, 99% of the seeds fall within a radius that is 15 times taller than the seed tree. Oftentimes seeds that have fallen are spread by flowing water.

Seedling Development

For starters, germination is epigeal. Mass reproduction happens when fire makes a seedbed ready, causing trees to spread millions and millions of seeds. A seedling is about the average height of two meters.

Seedlings can be submerged in water for many months and can survive to resume growth at a later date. A seedling can grow with every passing month; however, the fastest growth occurs in spring to early summer and late summer to early fall.

During the first year, you’ll rarely find a seedling growing more than 1 m within its first year.

Vegetative Reproduction

These stumps will sprout easily. Moreover, felled tops can rot underneath when the conditions are moist. Although root suckering is rare, when it does occur, it can be detrimental.

Growing Melaleuca From Seeds

Leaves and Seeds of the Melaleuca Tree
It is possible to grow a melaleuca tree from its seeds.

When the flowering is complete, melaleucas will produce seed capsules on globular-shaped clusters or in rows along the branches. In most instances, the seeds will remain inside of the capsules indefinitely and can get collected at all times.

If you collect the seeds from the capsules, you will need to place them in an open container in warm temperatures until the seed is released. Expect this to happen within two to three days. 

To ensure that you have the best results, you will want to choose capsules that are at least a year old. With this species which releases ripe seed yearly, the seed capsules should be examined and kept under observation until the capsules begin to open.

Germinating the melaleuca seed is relatively easy. There are special treatments needed. Germination will begin after 14 or 30 days. The timing all depends on the species.

The bog method is the most common method used for the germination of the melaleucas tree. That describes the process whereby a pot containing the seeds is placed into a saucer of water until germination happens. This ensures that the seeds do not dry out.

Cuttings

Propagating Melaleucas via cuttings is a good and reliable method. Cuttings should be about 75-100 mm in length with the leaves removed from the lower part carefully. You can choose to “wound” the lower stem by removing the sliver of bark and treating it with a root-promoting hormone to dramatically improve its success rate.

Growing a Melaleuca Tree in a Garden

White Flowers on a Sunny Day
Planting a melaleuca tree in your garden requires only a few simple steps.

You will want to choose a place in your garden capable of getting either the full sun to half shade. Get your planting area ready by digging and using some soil improver.

Next, be sure to dig the planting hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the root ball. Afterward, remove the plant from the packaging and tease the roots delicately.

Position the plant in the hole and backfill it, and gently firm it down. Create a raised ring around the plant, forming a well enabling the water to filter to where it is most needed.

Using organic mulch, place the mulch at the base, being sure to keep it from the trunk. Next, during Autumn and Spring, use a good fertilizer to allow for strong root development.

How to Grow Your Melaleuca in a Pot

Start by choosing a pot that can house a shrub or a smaller plant variety. When it comes to the Melaleuca tree, it is best to grow them in large areas or gardens. Should you decide to grow this tree in a pot, you have to take the proper measures to get it well-established.

  • Select a spot in your garden that has exposure to full sunlight or is half-shaded.
  • Purchase a quality potting mix that is organic, and fill the pot.
  • Remove the tree from its containers, and lightly tease and shake out the roots.
  • It’s important to protect your Melaleuca tree from getting root rot. That’s the purpose of piercing or drilling a hole into the bottom part of the foil surrounding the tree. You will place this in a small tray or saucer.
  • You also have the option to take the tray directly to the sink so that you can simply remove any wrapping and water it.
  • Allow the water to drain from the holes positioned at the bottom of your pot.
  • Position your hole for drainage, and then put the soil back on top of the roots, firmly patting it down. Ensure that you have at least one inch of space above the soil. This allows for a water reservoir when you water the plants.
  • For trees that you grow in a pot, you want to be sure that you water it deeply so that your plant has enough reserves for hot temperatures, and this also helps to settle the soil once you first put the plant into the pot.
  • You can now add bark mulch around the bottom of the plant but not directly near the trunk.
  • You only need to feed your Melaleuca plant once each year, lightly, using a fertilizer high in nutrients and organic.

Other Species You Can Try        

Since there seem to be more risks associated with growing paperbark tree, if you’re hesitant to plant it, try these variations:

Melaleuca Alternifolia

Branch of a Tea Tree
The tea tree plant is an alternative variation to the Melaleuca quinquenervia tree.

Also known as the Tea Tree Plant, the Melaleuca Alternifolia is a beautiful shrub of the evergreen variety. It can also be a small tree situated in Australia.

This plant is relatively easy to grow outdoors, in conditions deemed by the United States Department of Agriculture. It is sustained in hardiness zones from 9-11.

You can also grow this little plant indoors, but it will require a lot more TLC!

The tea tree usually creates white blooms that are wispy from about April until August. However, this may not be the case if you choose to grow it indoors. They might be able to self-pollinate in some cases, but they also need help from insect pollination.

If you do not put your plant outside when the weather is warm, it might not start flowering due to the lack of insect access.

Never try to use raw tea tree oil, which is unsafe because it’s toxic. If it has gotten processed correctly, it should be good to go and packed full of skin and health benefits.

Melaleuca Quinquenervia Oil Benefits

Tea Tree Oil
The oil produced from the melaleuca tree has many health benefits once processed properly.

Melaleuca also goes by the name of Niaouli. The oil from the tree is extracted using steam, and it is solid as an essential oil. You don’t use the oil for emotional wellbeing, but it functions as a natural stimulant because of the cineole And monoterpene’s composition and content.

The oil comes from the leaves, it has a thin consistency, a medium aroma, and is clear in color. It usually gets described as musty or earthy, but it has a plethora of benefits, even if the smell is rather strong.

Essential Oil Uses

  • Respiratory tract disorders
  • Bronchitis
  • Sore throat
  • Influenza
  • Coughing
  • Sinus congestion
  • Catarrh
  • Common cold
  • Rheumatism
  • Uterine infections
  • Muscle injuries
  • Acne
  • Rashes
  • Herpes
  • Cuts
  • Wounds
  • Insect repellent

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the responses to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Melaleuca Quinquenervia:

Is it Illegal to Grow Paperbark?

The answer to this question depends more on where you live. The plant is most prevalent in Florida, and it is illegal, based on the two statutes of Florida law, 369.25/369.251. They state that no one is allowed to transport, import, collect, non-nursery, cultivate, or have a noxious or toxic plant. That includes Melaleuca.

The statues also indicate that an individual cannot transport, collect, sell, cultivate, or have any seed, part, or plant from the species Melaleuca Quinquenervia.

In places such as California, the Melaleuca tree is not listed as invasive, and there are no concerns for infestation.  

What if My Melaleuca Has Been Here For Decades?

Some trees have been around for a few decades; they aren’t of concern. Nonetheless, some state officials have strongly and sternly urged the state to cut those trees down.

For them, they pose a constant threat of an infestation from the seeds that get windblown from nearby areas. Florida recognizes the Melaleuca Quinquenervia as a weed (noxious).

Do I Need a Permit to Cut Down My Melaleuca Tree?

A majority of the municipalities demand a permit to remove trees and offer an exemption for invasive plants such as the Melaleuca. In most instances, even if you do need a permit, they will likely waive the fee altogether.

Check in with your city’s environmental department to get an understanding of the resources available to you. Also, double-check the permit standards to guarantee that you’re following the law.

Does a Melaleuca Tree Use More Water Than Other Trees?

One Melaleuca tree on its own doesn’t drink up the water any more than another tree from another species would. However, the entire Melaleuca forest is a different story. It would transpire a higher amount of water than whichever field it replaced.

Furthermore, the canopy of a Melaleuca Tree collects rainwater partially. That keeps it from getting to the ground and making the soil moist.

Lastly, all of the leaf litter that reaches the ground elevates the soil level. This adds to how the site that’s invaded gets dried out.

Should I Plant a Melaleuca Tree On My Property?

Horticultural uses:

The Paperbark is for spacious gardens in large areas or large parks. The following uses will help you decide whether you should get the Melaleuca to your home if it’s allowed in your area.

The tree grows very fast, and it can tolerate waterlogged soil.

The trunk is massive, and it has gotten used for years by indigenous groups. You will also see that they have gotten planted for revegetation purposes in areas where there is a need for erosion control.

Interestingly, the Paperbark is not susceptible to termite attacks, as it has a resistant trunk. It also affects honey production as well as natural oils from the leaves. You can also use the wood to make firewood or for construction purposes.

Final Thoughts

Now that you understand the tips to care for a Melaleuca Quinquenervia plant, as well as the potential risks, you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to try.

Overall, due to its status as an invasive plant, it seems best that you opt for a smaller variety from the same species, or that you purchase the seeds and grow a bonsai version.

This plant, while beautiful, may cause adverse side effects to the land and air around you if you grow it on your property.

Aside from the precautions, it is a fairly easy plant to maintain; it’s tolerant to different weather conditions, though not as much to cold temperatures.

Always be sure that you have checked with your state’s environmental department to ensure that you are within regulations if you have any doubts.

The Melaleuca Quinquenervia is a stunning plant with its unique bark; it will surely add to the elegance of your yard or houseplant collection if you start growing one or a few!

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