Melaleuca quinquenervia, commonly known as broad-leaved paperbark or paper bark tea tree, is a medium-sized tree of the Myrtaceae Family. The plant is native coastal eastern Australia, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea.
The genus name is derived from the Greek melanos ‘black’ and leukos ‘white’ (this refers to the trunks of the tree).
Melaleuca quinquenervia grows extremely well in silty or swampy soil along estuary margins or in swamps and seasonally inundated plains.
Melaleuca quinquenervia grows as a spreading tree up to about 20 m high, with the trunk covered by a white, beige and grey thick papery bark.
The leaves are arranged alternately, the leathery grey-green leaves of 5 – 9 cm long by 1 – 2.5 cm wide, and ovate to obovate in shape. The species name quinquenervia is derived from Latin, quinque ‘five’ and nervus ‘nerve’ or ‘vein’, referring to the leaves.
Flowering occurs from late summer to early autumn in Sydney. The white or cream flowers are arranged in cylindrical brushes, 4–8 cm long and 2–3 cm wide borne at or near the end of branchlets.
The flower has 5 small petals of creamy white colour and are inconspicuous and 5 green sepals fused at the base to form a calyx tube. Numerous stamens joined to varying degree to form 5 bundles. The ovary is enclosed in the calyx tube and has 3 chambers each with numerous ovules.
After fertilisation, the ovules grow and develop into seeds whereas the ovaries develop into fruit. The fruit is a woody capsule containing numerous seeds.
The wood is pink to reddish brown, hard, fine-textured and tough. It contains silica that quickly blunts saws and planes. It makes excellent firewood, fence posts, and flooring. The bark can be used for potting mixes and for insulation.
The trees can be used for windbreaks, erosion control on degraded soils and as an ornamental tree.
The flowers serve as a rich source of nectar for insects, birds and fruit bats and other animals.
The plant is a good source of honey, perfumery and medicinal oil.
The plant is widely used traditionally by indigenous Australians. A brew can be made from the bruised young aromatic leaves to treat colds, headaches and general sickness. The steam-distilled leaf oil is also used externally for coughs, cold, neuralgia and rheumatism.
Melaleuca quinquenervia was introduced to USA and it grows too well. Its unchecked multiplication in South Florida threatens the integrity of the native ecosystem. It has been classified as a noxious weed in Florida and 5 other states in USA.
The use of the bark for fine art
The paper bark peels off in layers. They can be used as paper for drawing and painting. Alternatively the coloured bark can be used as materials for art work.
Fine art of indigenous Australians