Melaleuca: Melaleuca quinquenervia
Melaleuca is a large evergreen tree typically 65 feet
in height with a brownish white, many-layered papery bark.
Look for first
- papery, brownish-white bark
- stiff, lanceolate leaves
- spikes of creamy-white to pinkish flowers
||Leaves: alternate, simple, grayish green,
narrowly lance-shaped, to 10 cm (4 in.) long and 2 cm (3/4 in.)
wide, with the smell of camphor when crushed.
||Stems: trunks to 33 m (100 ft.) tall, with
brownish-white, many layered, peeling, papery bark.
||Flowers: in creamy white to pinkish "bottle
brush" spikes to 16 cm (6 in.) long.
||Fruit: broadly cylindrical, thick-walled,
capsules to 3 mm (3/8 in.) wide, in clusters surrounding young
stems; each capsule holding 200-300 tiny seeds.
Population estimates indicate melaleuca
trees inhabit more than 400 thousand acres, mostly in South
Origin in New Guinea and Australia; widely established in
Central and South Florida.
Melaleuca trees have extensively invaded South Florida,
displacing native vegetation in wetland and upland
Native to Australia and Malaysia,
melaleuca was introduced into Florida in 1906 as a potential
commercial timber and later extensively sold as a landscape
ornamental tree and windbreak. It was also planted to dry up the
Everglades to decrease mosquito populations and allow for
Melaleuca trees grow quickly, typically 3-6 feet per year, in
disturbed wet pine flatwoods, marshes and swamps. This nonnative
tree is rapidly displacing native cypress and sawgrass in the
Everglades. Melaleuca can flower five times per year. Any
damage to the tree that cuts water flow to the stems containing
seed capsules, such as fires, freezes and control techniques, will
result in seed release. Seeds can remain viable for 10 years, and a
single tree can store 2 to 20 million seeds.
Why melaleuca must be managed
Melaleuca forms dense stands resulting
in the almost total displacement of native plants that are
important to wildlife. In the Everglades, melaleuca trees form
nearly monospecific forests in formerly treeless sawgrass marshes,
disrupting historical water flows. Melaleuca forests represent a
serious fire hazard to surrounding developed areas because of the
oils contained within the leaves that create hot crown fires.
Because of its aggressive growth rate, never plant melaleuca.
Possession of melaleuca with the intent to sell or plant is illegal
in Florida without a special permit.
Image Credit: Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida