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 Florida.
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 environments.
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 development.
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.
Melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia)
Image Credit: Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida