Melaleuca /ˌmɛləˈluːkə/ is a genus of nearly 300 species of plants in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae, commonly known as paperbarks, honey-myrtles or tea-trees (although the last name is also applied to species of Leptospermum). They range in size from small shrubs that rarely grow to more than 1 m (3 ft) high, to trees up to 35 m (100 ft). Their flowers generally occur in groups, forming a “head” or “spike” resembling a brush used for cleaning bottles, containing up to 80 individual flowers. They are superficially like Banksia species, which also have their flowers in a spike, but the structures of individual flowers in the two genera are very different.
Second only to members of the family Proteaceae, melaleucas are an important food source for nectarivorous insects, birds, and mammals. Many are popular garden plants, either for their attractive flowers or as dense screens; and a few have economic value for producing fencing and oils such as “tea tree” oil. Most melaleucas are endemic to Australia, with a few also occurring in Malesia. Seven are endemic to New Caledonia, and one is found only on (Australia’s) Lord Howe Island. Melaleucas are found in a wide variety of habitats. Many are adapted for life in swamps and boggy places, while others thrive in the poorest of sandy soils or on the edge of saltpans. Some have a wide distribution and are common, whilst others are rare and endangered. Land clearing, exotic myrtle rust, and especially draining and clearing of swamps threaten many species.