One of the loveliest sensations in the Australian bush is stroking the soft springy trunk of the paperbark tree.
Once used by Aboriginal people to wrap up food, and even for lining cradles, paperbark today still attracts our fascination. Children can spend hours peeling the thick bark off the trunk and then patiently separating it into dozens of tissue-thin layers.
The often brightly coloured bottlebrush-like flowers of the paperbark tree are beloved of nectar feeding birds such as honeyeaters and lorikeets, so they are an excellent tree to attract wildlife to the garden.
Many birds and other creatures rely on Melaleucas, such as Little Friarbirds, native bees, rosellas, Scarlet Honeyeaters, Nankeen Night Herons, Orange-bellied Parrots and even orchids!
Paperbarks are close relatives of the Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia. For a special treat in the garden, paperbark trees planted near pathways let all who pass by enjoy its scent.
Paperbarks belong to the genus Melaleuca. There is over 200 species of melaleucas, most of which live in Australia. We know the larger species as paperbarks, while the smaller are usually called honey myrtles.
Most paperbark trees flower in spring and summer but one that shows off its floral glory around April is the Broadleafed Paperbark Melaleuca quinquenervia. It can grow to a giant 20 m tall tree and grows throughout eastern Australia. The flowers are creamy or greenish.
A northern paperbark which flowers any time of year after rain is the Long-leaved Paperbark Melaleuca leucadendra. You can spot these trees between Rockhampton in the east to Broome in the west. The fragrant creamy flowers attract birds and bees to the garden.
Just finished flowering around April is the Scented Paperbark Melaleuca squarrosa, a shrub or small tree with creamy or yellow flowers, small leaves and pale grey bark. You will find this delightful plant across Tasmania, and on the coast in Victoria, eastern South Australia and southern New South Wales.
DID YOU KNOW?Paperbarks have been widely cultivated for growing in parks and gardens, well outside their native range. Many paperbarks which originally grew in small isolated patches now grow right across the country, thanks to the careful work of horticulturalists. Their bark makes them popular but their flowers also come in anamazing range of colours, from white, cream and yellow through to orange, red, pink, and even purple.
TIPIt’s easy to recognise a paperbark – apart from multiple stamens which make up the flowers, the leaves often contain aromatic oils.