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MELALEUCA - Bottle Brush

Tender, evergreen, flowering shrubs and trees from Australia which belong to the Myrtle family, Myrtaceae. They are similar in appearance and are closely related to Metrosideros (Callistemon), which is the most popular of the Bottle Brush shrubs. The Melaleucas form woody branching shrubs or trees up to 80 ft. in height and have ovate or lance-shaped leathery leaves, 2-4 in. long and 1/2 in. wide.

The inflorescences are formed in the axils of the leaves. They are densely packed in the form of a spike, composed chiefly of long, conspicuous stamens which resemble a bottle-cleaning brush, hence the common name. The plant is distinguished from the Callistemon principally by its united filaments (stamen stalks). The name Melaleuca is derived from melas, black, and leukos, white, and refers to the black and white branches of one of the species.

Outdoors in Mild Climates. Melaleucas are favorites for outdoor cultivation in California and are grown to some extent in Florida and in other warm-climate states. They thrive in a variety of soils and are used as lawn specimens and as street trees; some are employed to hold the soil near the sea. For this last purpose Melaleuca Leucadendra is valuable.

Flowering Shrubs for a Greenhouse. When Melaleucas are grown indoors, a minimum winter temperature of 45 degrees is required. The best compost consists of peaty soil with sand added freely. Pruning, wrhich consists of shortening the vigorous shoots by half, and the weaker ones by two thirds, is carried out as soon as the flowers have faded. After pruning, the plants are syringed, two or three times daily, until new growths appear, w’hen repotting is carried out. The plants are removed from the pots, the crocks extracted, and a number of the roots loosened with a pointed stick, so that they stand out horizontally and therefore enter the new soil more readily.

Details of Management. The new pots should be one size larger than the old ones and provided with crocks for drainage. Over the crocks a thin layer of coarse leaves is placed to prevent the compost from washing into and blocking the drainage. The plant is then set in position and the compost rammed firmly around it with a wooden potting stick.

Alter potting, syringing must be continued and the plant shaded from bright sunlight until the roots enter the new soil; afterwards they arc given more light and air, and drier atmospheric conditions. In summer the plants are plunged in a bed of ashes out of doors, to ripen the shoots lor flower production.

Taking Cuttings. Propagation is chiefly by cuttings. Half-ripened shoots, 2 in. in length, are removed with a heel of old wood in July; some of the lower leaves are cut off and the heel is pared clean with a sharp knife. The prepared cuttings are then inserted in a mixture of equal parts of sand and peat moss under a bell jar in the greenhouse; the glass is wiped inside every morning to remove surplus moisture, which, if allowed to condense, would eventually drop on the cuttings and cause damping off.

When the cuttings are rooted, the bell jar is removed and, after a week or so, the rooted cuttings are potted separately in 2 1/2-in. pots and subsequently in larger ones. Bushy plants are obtained by pinching out the points of the main shoot, and the resultant side branches are similarly treated.

The bark of Melaleuca Leucadendra is used by the Australians for thatching, anti the leaves yieltf Cajeput Oil, which is used in medicine.

The chief kinds are Melaleuca Leucadendra, 15-20 ft., white; M, hypericifolia, 10-15 ft., scarlet; Melaleuca decussata, 10 ft., lilac; Melaleuca armillaris, 25-30 ft., white; Melaleuca elliptica, 6-10 ft., red; M, ericifolia, 18 ft., yellowish-white; Melaleuca lateritia, 8 ft., scarlet; Melaleuca nesophila, 10 ft., pink; Melaleuca styphelioicles, 80 ft., creamy white; Melaleuca tenella, 6 ft., white; Melaleuca Wilsonii, 10 ft., red.

 



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