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Melaleuca thymifolia (photo courtesy of Gerry Whitmont/Garden Picture Library/Photolibrary)
Melaleuca thymifolia (photo courtesy of Gerry Whitmont/Garden Picture Library/Photolibrary)

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Zones 8, 9, 12-24
Full Sun
Regular Water

Melaleuca thymifolia

Thymeleaf Melaleuca
Evergreen, Shrubs, Flowers


Australia is home to 140 or more species of melaleucas, and many of these show up in Western gardens. All have narrow, sometimes needlelike leaves and bear clustered flowers with prominent stamens; the blossoms attract birds. Since each flower cluster resembles a bottlebrush, some melaleucas are called bottlebrushes, though that name is more generally applied to members of the genus Callistemon.

Tight clusters of woody seed capsules are attached directly to branches; these hang on for several years, forming odd, decorative cylinders around twigs and branches. Many melaleucas have interestingly contorted branches and bark that peels off in thick, papery layers.

All melaleucas are easy to grow. Most withstand heat, wind, seacoast conditions, poor soil, and limited moisture. Most are vigorous and fast growing; for a natural appearance, control by cutting back selected branches to a well-placed side branch. Almost all melaleucas make good screens; some of the larger ones are useful as flowering or shade trees.

Melaleuca thymifolia

Low, spreading shrub to 2–4 ft. tall and 4–8 ft. wide. Bark is corky, flaking, grayish brown. Narrow blue-green leaves are fragrant when crushed. Blooms spring through early summer, with 2–3-in.-wide flower clusters resembling bundles of tiny ostrich feathers in white, pink, deep mauve, or dusky purple. Prefers acid soil but tolerates soils that lack fertility, are somewhat alkaline, or have sluggish drainage. Prune after flowering to keep compact. Takes occasional drought; best with regular water.

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