Family: Myrtaceae
Common Name: Tea-tree

There are around 80 species in this genus of attractive, evergreen shrubs and trees, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, with a few from Malaysia. Tea trees are among the most popular of the Australian shrubs grown in the US. In warmer regions they are grown in the garden, but in cooler and cold climates they are happy to be grown under glass. In Australia, the leaves of the Manuka were used for brewing a type of tea by the sailors from the Endeavour and the early settlers, hence the common name, tea-tree. These fine-foliaged trees bear very pretty, five-petalled, open flowers in colours ranging from white through many soft pinks to dark red, followed by round, woody capsules which may remain on the branches for some years before releasing hundreds of very fine seeds. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar which attracts both bees and birds to the garden. Tea-trees provide brilliant spring and summer colour, and shelter for birds, and com­pact forms may be planted fairly close together to make attractive hedges or windbreaks. Many improved cultivars have been developed. Tea-trees are also grown commercially for their essential oils and timber, which is valued for its strength. Adopted in the early days of settle­ment for building and fencing, it is now used mostly for rustic garden furniture and brush-wood fencing.


Not all of the following may be available outside their countries of origin.

L. juniperinum, prickly tea-tree, is a very attractive species, with light green, pointed leaves and small, white flowers in early spring.

L. laevigatum, coastal tea-tree, can be seen in the sand dunes along the east coast of Australia. Growing into a tall, bushy shrub or small tree, to 6 m (20 ft), it often has a gnarled trunk. The leaves are a grayish colour and the flowers are white. It is useful as a quick-growing hedge or low shelter in coastal areas, as it is highly resis­tant to salt spray and wind.

L. nitidum, shining tea-tree, to about 2 m (6 ft), is very attractive, with shiny, oval leaves, large, white flowers and reddish new growth. Cultivar 'Copper Sheen' is a lower growing shrub, the copper to dark red foliage contrasting well with the creamy yellow flowers in early spring.

L. petersonii, lemon-scented tea-tree, is a fast-growing shrub or small tree from the eastern states of Australia, with highly fragrant, lance-shaped leaves and snow white flowers in spring and early summer. Growing to a height of 5 m (16 ft) and a spread of 2.5 m (8 ft), this attrac­tive species is widely cultivated. It is also grown commercially for the oil, citral, a lemon essence.

L. scoparium, Manuka, zone 8, comes from New Zealand and Australia, where it is found in poor soils along the banks of rivers. Phenol, an oil, is obtained from this species. Many beautiful hybrids in a wonderful colour range, in single- and double-flowered forms, have been produced from this white-flowered shrub.

Leptospermum hybrids are now grown in many other parts of the world, including South Africa, Europe and the US. Cultivar 'Nicholsii', the first red-flowering form to be discovered, early in the twentieth century, is still very popular. 'Chapmanii', with rose-coloured flowers, was the first form of L. scoparium to break from the common white. Manukas, as this species and its cultivars are called in New Zealand, make excellent, long-lasting cut flow­ers. All grow to about 2 m (6 ft) in height and width. Var. rotundifolium, round-leaf tea-tree, is an attractive, spreading bush, with shiny, round leaves and white, pink or lilac flowers.

L. squarrosum, peach blossom tea-tree, has sharply pointed foliage and large, pink flowers in autumn. It has an open growth habit and reaches about 4 m (13 ft) in height.


In frost-prone climates, the frost-tender and half-hardy species are grown in a cool conservatory or greenhouse. Use soil-based potting compost and ensure maximum light, with shade from direct strong sun. Light prun­ing may be necessary after flowering to ensure a compact shape. The hardy species can be planted against a sheltered wall which receives sun for much of the day. Outdoors any well-drained soil is suitable, except very alkaline ones, plus a position in full sun. Feed with blood, fish and bone fertilizer annually, in spring. Both under glass and outdoors, scale insects can be a problem in some areas. Propagate from seed in spring or autumn, and ger­minate at 15°C (59°F). Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer and root them in a heated propa­gating case.


Warmer parts of zone 9 for most species, unless otherwise specified below.