Common name: paperbark tree
Synonyms and Other Names: melaleuca, cajeput, paperbark tea tree, punk tree, broad-leaved paperbark (Meskimen 1962; Munger 2005; Turner et al 1997)
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Identification: Melaleuca quinquenervia is a large, wetland tree species with thick, white, peeling bark that appears “paper-like”, accounting for one of the species’ common names “paperbark tree” (Meskimen 1962; Turner et al 1997). It has epicormic trunk buds, is capable of root-sprouting, has woody fruit capsules that contain tiny seeds that disperse in the wind (Meskimen 1962; Turner et al 1997).
Leaves are broadly-lanced shaped, have 2-3 parallel veins, and are 2-3 inches long in Florida populations (Meskimen 1962). Flowers are cream-colored with petals. Melaleuca trees are often confused with Eucalyptus due to each having a long, slender leaf shape, but they can be differentiated by the presence of petals on the flowers of Melaleuca (Meskimen 1962).
Size: Up to 20m tall (Hofstetter 1991)
Native Range: Eastern Australia from Sydney north to Cape York; New Caledonia; New Guinea (Turner et al 1997)
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Puerto Rico &
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps
Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Melaleuca quinquenervia are found here.
Table last updated 12/6/2021
† Populations may not be currently present.
Ecology: All of the nearly 130 species of the genus Melaleuca are native to Australia (Meskimen 1962). Melaleuca quinquenervia occurs in low-lying, coastal wetlands with high rainfall in its native range and Florida (Turner et al 1997). The plant is limited to the tropics and subtropics and does not tolerate freezing conditions, with young trees dying in frost conditions (Hofstetter 1991). However, the plant is also known to have survived several record-breaking cold snaps in its introduced range of South Florida (Turner et al 1997).
The species is fire adapted, and appears to flourish in post-fire conditions, as fire disperses seeds, and the tree quickly regenerates after burning due to their epicormic shoots (Turner et al 1997; Hofstetter 1991). This species is very tolerant, and persists in flood and drought conditions, often thriving in flood conditions, growing rapidly, up to 2m per year (Quinn and Holt, 2008; Hofstetter 1991). The plant grows up to 20m tall in its nonnative range in the Everglades, far larger than it does in its native range (Hofstetter 1991). Melaleuca grows in dense stands, often creating monocultures, and is capable of growing new trees from fragmentation (Rayamajhi et al. 2007; Hofstetter 1991).
Means of Introduction: Melaleuca quinquenervia was imported as an ornamental plant in areas where it is introduced, including California, Hawaii, and Florida in the United States (Meskimen 1962; Turner et al 1997). Its original introduction to Florida was in 1906 in the area of Biscayne Bay, Miami, where seeds delivered from Sydney Australia were planted with the intention of stabilizing banks and absorbing flood waters to reduce the presence of mosquitos when Eucalyptus plantings failed due to intolerance of the wet conditions. Upon the success of the species' establishment in Miami, others introduced the tree to the southern gulf area of the state in the same decade (Meskimen 1962).
Status: Established in south Florida, including the Florida Everglades
Impact of Introduction:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...This species creates dense, monoculture stands, with a thick canopy that blocks light, outcompeting native species for space and resources (Jubinsky et al 1990; Rayamajhi et al. 2007). The monotypic stands that this tree creates in the Everglades threatens biodiversity and food webs, as the trees are not ideal habitat for native species (Jubinsky et al 1990).
Since it is very fire tolerant, even thriving in fire conditions, the burning of the plant creates a thick, black smoke which can impact human health and visibility in cities (Turner et al 1997).
References: (click for full references)
Cathey, H.M. 1990. USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. U.S. Dept. Agric., Agric. Res. Serv. Misc. Publ. No. 1475.
Hofstetter, R.H. 1991. The current status of Melaleuca quinquenervia in Southern Florida. Pages 159-176 in Center, T.D., R.F. Doren, R.L. Hofstetter, R.L. Myers, and L.D. Whiteaker, eds. Proceedings of the Symposium on Exotic Pest Plants, November 2–4, 1998, Miami, FL. NPS Natural Resources Technical Report 91/06. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Washington, DC.
Jubinsky, G., A. Leslie, and L. Ethridge. 1990.Weed Alert!. Bureau of Aquatic Plant Management, Tallahassee, FL.
Meskimen, G. F. 1962. A silvical study of the melaleuca tree in south Florida. Unpublished M.S. thesis. University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Gainesville, FL.
Munger, G.T. 2005. Melaleuca quinquenervia: Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab. https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/melqui/all.html. Accessed on 02/22/2021.
Rayamajhi, M.B., Van, T.K., Pratt, P.D., Center, T.D. and Tipping, P.W., 2007. Melaleuca quinquenervia dominated forests in Florida: analyses of natural-enemy impacts on stand dynamics. Plant Ecology, 192(1), pp.119-132.
Turner, C.E., T.D. Center, D.W. Burrows, G.R and Buckingham. 1997. Ecology and management of Melaleuca quinquenervia, an invader of wetlands in Florida, USA. Wetlands Ecology and Management 5(3):165-178.
Revision Date: 10/5/2021
Morningstar, C.R., 2021, Melaleuca quinquenervia (Cav.) S.T. Blake: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=3599, Revision Date: 10/5/2021, Access Date: 12/6/2021
This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.