Melaleuca is a large genus of about 170 species and many sub-species, belonging to the family Myrtaceae. All are endemic to Australia, except one which extends into South-East Asia and the South Pacific. They vary from small shrubs to trees, and are found in a great variety of habitats M. spathulata, from the Stirling and Eyre districts of Western Australia.
It is a showy, erect, but compact shrub growing to 1.5 m by 1.5 m. The dark green leaves are obovate-spathulate, 6-8 mm long, with a short petiole. The foliage is held on slender rigid upright branches that have an attractive contorted appearance, with the light grey papery bark contrasting well with the dark foliage. The 20 mm diameter, bright mauve flowers, are 'Pom-pom' shaped, and appear profusely in terminal clusters, from October to December. The small globular fruits may be pruned after flowering to encourage new growth and hence more flowering for the following year.
Melaleuca spathulata occurs naturally on sand plains and gravelly hillsides, and in cultivation grows best in a well-drained sunny position. At the Australian National Botanic Gardens, however, it has also grown well in heavier soils, with the oldest plants being established for over ten years. These have shown no frost damage or pest and disease problems.
Propagation is from seed. Mature seed capsules should be selected and stored in a warm place in a paper bag until the seed is released. Sow the seed in spring and prick out when the seedlings are large enough to handle. The plant may also be propagated from cuttings taken in late summer to early autumn when the new growth has begun to harden.
Melaleuca spathulata would be an asset in any garden, especially the low maintenance garden, where it adds colour in spring and an interesting form throughout the year. lt also makes a useful tub specimen. It has been available commercially for some years and there should be little difficulty in acquiring a plant from a nursery specialising in native plants.
Text by: Stuart Donaldson, 1982
Name meaning: Melaleuca spathulata
Melaleuca - a Latinised compound from melan, black, and leuca, white (the reason for the name is obscure, but it is said to refer to the dark trunk, possibly burnt, and the white upper branches of the first Melaleuca named; another opinion contrasts the white bark with the dark foliage of some species);
spathulata - from the Greek spathe, a spatula, referring to the leaf shape.