Melaleuca radula, or Graceful Honey-myrtle, is a shrub which is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia. It ranges between 0.3 metres and 2.4 metres in height and has purple, pink or white flowers that appear in winter and spring.
In the wild, Melaleuca plants are generally found in open forest, woodland or shrubland, particularly along watercourses and the edges of swamps.
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.
The best-accepted common name for Melaleuca is simply melaleuca; however most of the larger species are also known as paperbarks, and the smaller types as honey myrtles.
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.