Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 621 Melaleuca quinquenervia

Common Names: melaleuca, cajeput, punk tree, white bottlebrush tree Family: Myrtaceae (myrtle Family)

melaleuca infestation
An infestation of melaleuca has trees crowding shoulder to shoulder along Florida's Turnpike in Palm Beach County.

Description

Melaleuca is an evergreen tree with a slender crown and drooping branches. It usually gets about 40 ft (12.2 m) tall, but can get up to 100 ft (30.5 m). The bark is whitish and spongy, peeling off in thin layers. The leaves are alternate, simple, leathery, and lance-shaped to 4 in (10.2 cm) long. They smell like camphor when bruised. The flowers are creamy white and arranged in "bottle brush" spikes up to 6 in (15.2 cm) long. The fruits are small woody capsules clustered on the twigs. Each capsule contains several hundred tiny seeds.

melaleuca flowers
The melaleuca's white flowers produce irritating pollen and mature to produce copious quantities of seed.

Location

Melaleuca is native to eastern Australia (near the coast) and New Guinea. In Florida it has become one of the state's worst invasive weeds, and that's saying something in a state with more than a thousand exotic plant species growing in the wild! In south Florida, melaleuca often dominates wetlands, pinelands, and disturbed areas. Melaleuca represents a severe threat to the integrity of the Florida Everglades.


Culture

Light: Full sun. Moisture: Does best in moist soil. Can even grow in standing water. Also grows in well-drained upland situations. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Can survive severe frosts. Propagation: Melaleuca spreads by tiny seeds which are blown on the wind. A single tree can produce 20 million seeds per year, and is capable of releasing them all at once when stressed. Two-year old trees produce seed. Melaleuca resprouts from cut stumps and fire-killed trees resprout from their roots.

Usage

Melaleuca grows very fast, up to 6 ft (1.8 m) per year, and produces dense stands that completely shade out all other vegetation and provide little food for wildlife. Melaleuca should not be cultivated and existing trees should be killed. Cut off near the ground and paint the stump with a systemic herbicide such as Roundup® or Garlon®.<

melaleuca bark
The melaleuca sports interesting white bark that continuously peels off in thin sheets.

Features

Melaleuca was introduced into Florida in 1906 as an ornamental. Seeds were scattered from airplanes over the Everglades in the 1930's in an attempt to create forests and drain the swamp. Even as late as the 1960's, melaleuca was still being recommended as an ornamental. Today, state and federal agencies are actively working to control the spread of this exotic menace. Biological control agents from Australia have been released. Crews are at work continuously cutting and herbiciding melaleuca trees in state parks, Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Melaleuca contains cajeput oil which is strongly antiseptic and has many medicinal uses. However, this usually is harvested from other species of Melaleuca which are grown commercially in Australia.

Warning

Melaleuca, especially when in bloom, causes respiratory irritation, headache and nausea to some people. Contact with the bark can cause a skin rash. Melaleuca is on Florida's official list of noxious plants, and its cultivation and possession are prohibited by state law.

Steve Christman 1/6/00; updated 3/20/00, 5/19/04



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Melaleuca species profiled on Floridata:


Melaleuca quinquenervia

( melaleuca, cajeput, punk tree, white bottlebrush tree )

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