Australian Biological Resources Study

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Melaleuca cajuputi (Family Myrtaceae)

Swamp tea-tree, paperbark tea-tree, cajuput tree


The Australian presence of this species is the southern-most part of an extensive distribution in South-east Asia. It has been cultivated for a long time and is possibly not native in parts of its present range. In Australia it occurs in northern Queensland, the north of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. The latitudinal range in Australia is 10-18o S and the altitudinal range is from near sea level to 200 m. (QLD, NT, WA)


In Australia it is usually a medium-sized tree to about 25 m tall with a single stem. In some situations it may be reduced to a shrub but in the Northern Territory it can be over 40 m tall and 120 cm diameter. It has the potential for moderately fast growth. The bark is layered and papery. The crown has a somewhat silvery appearance as young shoots are covered in dense silky hairs. The smaller branches are slender but not drooping. Leaves are straight or curved, often hairy, mainly 5-10 cm long and 1-4 cm wide with 3-5 nerves. The white or cream flowers form in spikes up to 9 cm long. The fruits are cup-like, woody capsules about 3 mm long. Flowering occurs from March - December and mature seeds have been collected in October - November. There are about 2.5 million viable seeds per kilogram.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Most occurrences are in the hot humid zone but it extends into the hot sub-humid zone. The area is frost-free. The mean annual rainfall is 1300-1750 mm with a strong summer maximum. Most stands are found along drainage lines or on low, swampy coastal plains. It can form extensive stands on heavy textured black soils that are flooded for 6 or more months each year. In wet swamps it forms pure forest or mixed open-forest or woodland with Melaleuca leucadendra, Barringtonia acutangula, Lophostemon species and Nauclea species. It is resistant to fire and tolerates exposure to wind. It will coppice, has the ability to reproduce from suckers and on waterlogged sites it develops aerial roots.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

The wood is pale brown, fairly heavy, fine-textured, hard, tough, difficult to season but relatively easy to work. It is generally used in the round or roughly fashioned and is durable in fresh or salt water. A major use is as a source of cajuput oil, produced by steam distillation of the leaves. This oil has medicinal properties, makes a good antiseptic and can be used in insect repellents. It is an attractive ornamental tree, can be used for shade and shelter and is a source of honey. The wide adaptability and regeneration powers of this species makes it a potential weed in some environments.

Other Comments:

Melaleuca cajuputi was named by Powell in 1809; the genus name comes from the Greek melas = black, and leukos = white; its origin is obscure, but may refer to the black trunk and white branches of some species; the species name comes from the Malay caju = white and puti = tree, referring to the pale bark. It is often referred to as Melaleuca leucadendra in older literature.

Further Reading:

Blake, S.T. 1968. A revision of Melaleuca leucadendron and its allies (Myrtaceae). Contributions of the Queensland Herbarium 1: 1-114.

Brock, J. 2001. Native plants of northern Australia. Reed New Holland, Sydney.

Doran, J.C. and Turnbull, J.W. (eds.) 1997. Australian trees and shrubs; species for land rehabilitation and farm planting in the tropics. ACIAR Monograph no. 24. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra. 384p.


Firewood Salt-tolerance Timber Aromatic oils Medicinal use Honey Germination Commercial use Waterlogging


Text & map from Australian Trees and Shrubs, courtesy Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; text edited by J. Turnbull; photo courtesy D. Lea.

Sponsored by:

David Lea/ACIAR

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