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Physical Description

Type Information

Isotype for Melaleuca linariifolia var. alternifolia Maiden & Betche
Catalog Number: US 654049
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Sex/Stage: ; Flowering and Fruiting
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): J. H. Maiden
Year Collected: 1903
Locality: Boffs Harbour to Grafton., New South Wales, Australia, Australasia
  • Isotype: Maiden, J. H. & Betche, E. 1904. Pro. Linnean Soc. New South Wales. 29: 742.
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© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany

Source: National Museum of Natural History Collections


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Melaleuca alternifolia

Melaleuca alternifolia, commonly known as narrow-leaved paperbark, narrow-leaved tea-tree, narrow-leaved ti-tree, or snow-in-summer, is a species of tree or tall shrub in the myrtle family Myrtaceae. Native to Australia, it occurs in southeast Queensland and the north coast and adjacent ranges of New South Wales. It grows along streams and on swampy flats, and is often the dominant species where it occurs.


Melaleuca alternifolia is a small tree to about 7 metres (20 ft) with a bushy crown and whitish, papery bark. Leaves are linear, 10–35 millimetres (0.4–1 in) long and 1 millimetre (0.04 in) wide, smooth and soft. They are also rich in oil with the glands prominent.

Flowers occur in fluffy white masses of spikes 3–5 centimetres (1–2 in) long over a short period, mostly spring to early summer. The small woody, cup-shaped fruit, 2–3 millimetres (0.08–0.1 in) in diameter are scattered along the branches.[2]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

Melaleuca alternifolia was originally described in 1905 by Joseph Maiden and Ernst Betche as Melaleuca linariifolia var. alternifolia.[3] It was renamed Melaleuca alternifolia in 1925 by Edwin Cheel.[4] The specific epithet (alternifolia) is a botanical term meaning "having leaves that alternate on each side of a stem".[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Narrow-leaved paperbark occurs from the Grafton district in New South Wales and as far inland as Stroud, north to Maryborough in Queensland. It grows in along streams and in swampy places.[6][2]



This species grows well in a wide range of soils and climates. It prefers well-drained but most soils and a to be grown in fun sun.[2]

Medicinal uses[edit]

Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil in clear glass vial
See also: Tea tree oil

The indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia use "tea trees" as a traditional medicine by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds. They also sprinkle leaves on wounds, after which a poultice is applied. In addition, tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments.[7][8]

Characteristic of the myrtle family Myrtaceae, it is used to distill essential oil. It is the primary species for commercial production of tea tree oil (melaleuca oil), a topical antibacterial.[9]

Tea tree oil is toxic if ingested in large amounts and may cause skin irritation if used topically in high concentrations.[10] No deaths have been reported.[10]


  1. ^ "Melaleuca alternifolia information from NPGS/GRIN". Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  2. ^ a b c Holliday, Ivan (2004). Melaleucas : a field and garden guide (2nd ed. ed.). Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.: Reed New Holland Publishers. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1876334983. 
  3. ^ "Melaleuca linariifoliavaralternifolia". APNI. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Melaleuca alternifolia". APNI. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Brophy, Joseph J.; Craven, Lyndley A.; Doran, John C. (2013). Melaleucas : their botany, essential oils and uses. Canberra: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. p. 73. ISBN 9781922137517. 
  6. ^ "Melaleuca alternifolia". Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Shemesh, A.; Mayo, W. L. (1991). "Australian tea tree oil: a natural antiseptic and fungicidal agent". Aust. J. Pharm 72: 802–803. 
  8. ^ Low, T. 1990. Bush medicine. Harper Collins Publishers, North Ryde, NSW, Australia
  9. ^ Carson, C. F.; Hammer, K. A.; Riley, T. V. (2006). "Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties". Clinical Microbiology Reviews 19 (1): 50–62. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006. PMC 1360273. PMID 16418522. 
  10. ^ a b Hammer, K; Carson, C; Riley, T; Nielsen, J (2006). "A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil". Food and Chemical Toxicology 44 (5): 616–25. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2005.09.001. PMID 16243420. 
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