Melaleuca contains 236 species, all of which occur in Australia. The species are shrubs and trees growing (depending on species) to 2 – 30 m tall, often with flaky, exfoliating bark. The leaves are evergreen, alternately arranged, ovate to lanceolate, 1 - 25 cm long and 0.5 -7 cm broad, with an entire margin, dark green to grey-green in colour. The flowers are produced in dense clusters along the stems, each flower with fine small petals and a tight bundle of stamens; flower colour varies from white to pink, red, pale yellow or greenish. The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous minute seeds.
Melaleuca is closely related to Callistemon, the main difference between the genera being that the stamens are generally free in Callistemon but grouped into bundles in Melaleuca.
In the wild, Melaleuca plants are generally found in open forest, woodland or shrubland, particularly along watercourses and the edges of swamps.
Melaleucas are popular garden plants, both in Australia and other tropical areas worldwide. In Hawaii and the Florida everglades,
Traditional Aboriginal uses
Aborigines used the leaves traditionally for many medicinal purposes, including chewing the young leaves to alleviate headache and for other ailments.
The softness and flexibility of the paperbark itself made it an extremely useful tree to Aboriginal people. It was used to line coolamons when used as cradles, as a bandage, as a sleeping mat, and as material for building humpies. It was also used for wrapping food for cooking (in the same way aluminium foil is today), as a disposable raincoat, and for tamping holes in canoes.