There are over 200 species of Melaleuca, almost all of which occur in Australia. They vary from small shrubs to trees; some of the smaller species are known as ‘honeymyrtles’, and some of the larger ones as ‘paperbarks’ or ‘tea-trees’. Moonah is one of the tree species, although in places it grows as a large shrub.
Moonah is notable for its very wide range. It extends from Australia’s west to its east coasts; and from the southern coast of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria northwards as far as Shark Bay (on the west coast) and southern Queensland. It occurs in every mainland State except the Northern Territory, and has several common names. In Western Australia, where it is known best from Rottnest Island, it is often called ‘Rottnest tea-tree’; in South Australia a favoured name is ‘dryland tea-tree’. Other names include ‘black paperbark’ and ‘western black tea-tree’. None of those, however, is as elegant as ‘moonah’, an Aboriginal name from Victoria.
Moonah’s occurrences include many quite arid parts of the inland. Here it grows in calcareous soils in low-lying places, often near salt lakes. It is also found extensively on the coast (including all the way round the Great Australian Bight) and on offshore islands, and grows closer to the ocean than almost any other tree.
Many of the occurrences reflect moonah’s hardiness, its ability to tolerate dry, alkaline or salty conditions. Near the coast it withstands the very salty winds that are so damaging to foliage. Here it produces a dense canopy, shielding the individual leaves from the deposition of salt. In stands, the tree canopies often combine in an almost single, unbroken layer.
As with many other widespread species, moonah’s form and features vary somewhat from region to region, and it is likely that, at some stage in the future, three or four subspecies will be recognized.
The following photographs of moonah are a few of many that I took on a visit in November/December 2019 to coastal Victoria near Melbourne, a good place to find large, old, well developed specimens. I shall gradually add more pictures (and most of their associated numbers will change). They show various aspects of the trees’ form — but not the flowers, which are produced later in the summer, often in profusion.
In the accompanying captions I sometimes present my thoughts on what has influenced the trees’ appearance. These are based on my observations on this and other tree species in Western Australia, where I lived for many years, rather than any great knowledge of the Melbourne/Victorian areas visited.
How to view the pictures
Click on a picture in the gallery below to display it. To see its caption, click on the ‘i’ button, at the bottom (and click again to hide it). Move the cursor to the right- or left-hand side of the screen to bring up arrows for moving on or back.
For pictures taken by me of moonah in south-western Australia, go to https://www.robertpowelltrees.org/moonah-melaleuca-lanceolata/.
© Text and photographs: Robert Powell