Myrtaceae (myrtle family) Melaleuca

Melaleuca (Paperbark) Notes

Paperbarks populate salt marsh behind coastal sand dunes in Austronesia and because of this ability the cajeput tree, a paperbark, has been used successfully to colonize the Florida swamps. Xenophobes, however, have tried to eradicate the aliens by burning them; they should have noticed that the layers of thermal insulation are there for a purpose. The cajeput trees’ response to fire is to seed prolifically. Brazilian pepper is another hated alien.

Efforts have been made to rid the swamps of a small Mozambican fish that drove out the existing fish by fair competition in which it won by considerately protecting its young in its mouth. The previously dominant fish population was from Angola! Reminds me of my Oxford friend Daphne, who said that alien trees like the gaudy Canadian maple should be expelled from Britain because the English landscape wasn’t meant to look like that in the autumn. Well, good-bye you Italian Cypresses, Chinese and Japanese conifers, and a hundred other ornamentals brought home to Britain by adventurous plant collectors since the 1700s. Nonnative trees have been brought to California for reasons of variety, nostalgia for days back East, and special purposes such as ability to grow in extreme conditions: rainless summers, salt spray, swampy saline bay mud loaded with calcareous skeletons of molluscs (Bayshore Freeway), poor soil, and so on. A concomitant good of outlandish trees is reduced likelihood of attack by pests that are native to the importing area. Still, a Stanford Daily editor wrote, "Stanford should … begin cutting down healthy eucalyptus trees and planting native species in their place" (February 13, 1995).

The move to dry out the Everglades to allow agricultural and urban use began in 1948 with a congressional order to the Corps of Engineers to drain the South Florida swamps. By 2000, the diversion of fresh water into the sea amounted to 1.7 billion gallons a day. On November 3, 2000, Congress reversed that order; the Corps of Engineers is expected to restore the swamp and its sawgrass in 30 years. The cajeput trees will voluntarily depart and ocean fish repelled by the fresh water will return to Florida Bay (subject to future governmental ebb and flow). By 2002, plans were under way to pump vast quantities of water into wells for release in dry years. But these plans mandated by Congress run counter to the interests of sugar growers (who dump 80 tons of phosphorus annually), and developers, under whose influence the state government enacted a 10-year delay in 2003.

Bark from several paperbark species can be used for watercolor drawing or Chinese calligraphy, mosaic paintings can be made by assembling small flakes of assorted pastel tones, and bark packaged in rolls is sold for use similar to parchment in cooking. The bark is also useful for rafting across crocodile-infested rivers.

Callistemon and Melaleuca: Key to Species

Some authorities have moved most callistemons into Melaleuca. We treat them as separate genera here.

Leaves simple; many showy stamens; branches passing through compact cylindrical or spherical clusters of sessile capsules and continuing as foliage shoots (illustration)

Stamens not united at their bases — Callistemon:
Leaves needle like, about 1-inch long; flower clusters rose-pink, anthers yellow — C. brachyandrus
Leaves leaf-like with a prominent midrib; flower clusters bright red:
Lateral veins of leaves distinct; capsules contracted at summit — C. citrinus
Lateral veins of leaves somewhat obscure; capsules not contracted at summit — C. viminalis

Stamens united at their bases into 5 groups opposite the petals — Melaleuca:
Bark dark, hard; stamens whitish — Melaleuca styphelioides
Bark more or less whitish, sponge-rubbery:
Leaves usually less than ⅛-inch wide; stamens white — Melaleuca linariifolia
Leaves mostly ¼-inch wide or greater; stamens purple — Melaleuca nesophila

Name derivation: Melaleuca – Greek mela (black) and leukos (white) because some species of the genus have black trunks with white branches.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Key added by John Rawlings.