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Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree)

The main source of commercially-produced tea tree oil, Melaleuca alternifolia is an efficacious natural antiseptic once heralded as 'a medicine chest in a bottle'.
Melaleuca alternifolia in Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Melaleuca alternifolia in Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney (Photo:

Species information

Scientific name: 

Melaleuca alternifolia (Maiden & Betche) Cheel

Common name: 

tea tree, ti tree

Conservation status: 

Widespread and common in the wild. Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Along streams and on swampy flats, on the coast and adjacent ranges.

Key Uses: 

Medicinal (tea tree oil), ornamental.

Known hazards: 

Pure tea tree oil should not be ingested, and should be kept out of the reach of children; several cases of tea tree oil poisoning have been recorded. The oil can also cause contact dermatitis.


Genus: Melaleuca

About this species

The genus Melaleuca belongs to the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) and includes about 250 species (including the paperbarks, some of which are cultivated as ornamentals). Most Melaleuca species are restricted to Australia. M. alternifolia bears fluffy, white masses of flowers from spring to early summer, and its narrow leaves help distinguish it from the similar species M. linariifolia, which has wider leaves and flattish-spherical fruits.

Captain James Cook, the 18th century explorer, is reported to have used tea tree leaves to brew a spicy tea, although the common name ‘tea tree’ has been applied to several plants in the genera Melaleuca and Leptospermum (also in Myrtaceae), so the exact species he used is unknown.


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