An Invasive Tree of Florida

by BJ Jarvis, Pasco County Cooperative Extension Horticulture Agent
Para la traduccíon al español, marque aqui.  
Melaleuca trees (Melaleuca quinquenervia), also known as punk trees or paperbark tea trees, are native to Australia.  In that country, melaleuca is well-known, planted in parks, valued by beekeepers, attractive to birds and bats.  In fact, because of development, melaleuca trees in some parts of Australia are the subject of conservation efforts.

However, in Florida melaleuca is a pest, especially in the Everglades and wetlands where the trees grow into immense forests.  The problem with this is our native plants are being virtually eliminated.  Melaleuca grows in upland area (drier) as well as in completely aquatic locations.  The Everglades, the mostly treeless "river of grass," in some places has become the "river of trees," a completely alien habitat to the plants and animals that have evolved to live in the glades.  During the 50 years since its introduction into the state, melaleuca has taken over hundreds of thousands of acres of Everglades, threatening the very existence of this internationally known eco-treasure.

Melaleuca is found primarily in the more frost-free areas of south Florida and is found only occasionally in the warmer coastal areas of Pasco County.

Melaleuca produces huge quantities of seeds, which become small trees, which grow into almost impenetrable monoculture.  Researchers are attempting to find ways to control melaleuca:  herbicides are proving to be somewhat effective, but purposely-set management fires (and lightning-started fires) apparently actually help spread the seeds and trees.  Recently, biological control insects have been released against melaleuca, but it will be some time before biocontrol results will be known.
A Stand of Melaleuca (punk trees)
The leaves of a melaleuca tree.
The bark of a melaleuca tree (punk tree).
The blossoms of a melaleuca tree.
How to Identify the Melaleuca Tree

Melaleuca can grow into a 100-foot tree.  Its bark is whitish, spongy, peeling, and in many layers. Leaves are to 5 inches long, alternate, evergreen, simple, and narrowly elliptic.  Melaleuca's white flowers are small and crowded in bottlebrush-like spikes at branch tips.  The fruit are short, cylindric or squarish, woody capsules with many tiny seeds.
So, Is Melaleuca "Good" for Anything? Yes.  There now is a market for melaleuca mulch when harvested and chipped.  University of Florida research indicates it is one of the most termite-resistant mulches commonly available on the market.  If you cannot find this mulch from local retailers, ask the management to carry it.
For In-depth  Information on Melaleuca Visit the Following Website