Island Assets: Plant of the month.
BRIBIE ISLAND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ASSOCIATION
Melaleuca quinquenervia – Paperbark.
This month we continue with our celebration of the flora along Ian Fairweather Trail on First Ave between Woorim and Bongaree jetty. As you are wafted along on the heady scent of honey, it’s not surprising you are accompanied by the joyful sounds of birds imbibing in the delicious nectar blossoms the Melaleuca quinquenervia provides for them.
The trail is a wonderful visual, olfactory and auditory experience. The name, M quinquenervia, is derived from the Ancient Greek melanos ‘black’ and leukos, ‘white’ (referencing the trunks of other plants of this species), the Latin quinque, ‘five’, and nervus ‘nerve’ or ‘vein’ (referencing the leathery dull grey-green leaves).
It is commonly known as the broad-leaved Paperbark or Tea-tree. M quinquenervia grows from 8–20m high with a spread of 5–10 m and thick white and beige papery bark. The trees can live for over 100 years. The white or cream flowers bloom five times a year and are arranged in cylindrical brushes borne at or near the end of branchlets. Tiny seeds are released annually.
M quinquenervia grows along the east coast in mostly swampy areas, such as Bribie’s Wallum. The species can withstand floods and droughts. Major threats to M quinquenervia are housing developments, roads, sugar cane and pine plantations. Remnants in Australia are not protected in reserves, with a majority of its woodland located in private property where clearing continues – as we witness regularly on Bribie Island and the adjacent mainland.
The flowers are a rich source of nectar for other organisms, including flying foxes, insects and bird species. M quinquenervia has multiple uses and is widely used traditionally by Indigenous Australians.
For example, a brew was made from the bruised young aromatic leaves to treat colds, headaches and general sickness. The nectar is extracted and consumed as a beverage and the scented flowers produce honey.
The plant’s essential oils are used in cosmetic and medicinal products, especially as an antiseptic and antibacterial agent. M quinquenervia is used as a street tree or planted in public parks and gardens, especially in Sydney.