Melaleuca alternifolia

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Narrow-leaved paperbark
Melaleuca alternifolia.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Myrtales
Family: Myrtaceae
Genus: Melaleuca
Species: M. alternifolia
Binomial name
Melaleuca alternifolia
(Maiden & Betche) Cheel[1]

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. Endemic to Australia, it occurs in southeast Queensland and the north coast and adjacent ranges of New South Wales where 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 m (20 ft) with a bushy crown and whitish, papery bark. Leaves are linear, 10–35 mm (0.4–1 in) long and 1 mm (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 cm (1–2 in) long over a short period, mostly spring to early summer. The small woody, cup-shaped fruit, 2–3 mm (0.08–0.1 in) in diameter are scattered along the branches.[2]

M. alternifolia (cultivated) growing in Menton, France

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

Melaleuca alternifolia was first formally 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.[1][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 along streams and in swampy places.[2][6]



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

Medicinal uses[edit]

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] It may be effective for treating fungal infections such as Athlete's foot.[10]

Tea tree oil is toxic if ingested in large amounts and may cause skin irritation if used topically in high concentrations.[11] No deaths have been reported.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Melaleuca alternifolia". APNI. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Holliday, Ivan (2004). Melaleucas : a field and garden guide (2nd ed.). Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.: Reed New Holland Publishers. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1876334983. 
  3. ^ "Melaleuca linariifoliavaralternifolia". APNI. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Cheel, Edwin (1924). "Notes on Melaleuca with descriptions of two new species and a new variety". Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of new South Wales. 58: 195. 
  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 1360273Freely accessible. PMID 16418522. 
  10. ^ "Tea tree oil". U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  11. ^ 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.