Native to: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, New Caledonia
Melaleuca, aka, punk or paperbark tree, was first introduced to Florida around 1886 as an ornamental, shade tree, and windbreak. There were over a dozen independent introductions between the 1880s and the 1950s. In the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planted it to stabilize levees on Lake Okeechobee, and seed was dispersed by airplane over the Everglades. By 1993, it was estimated to be infesting half a million acres in South Florida.
Habit: tall (up to 80 ft.) tree with whitish, spongy, peeling, many layered bark.
Leaves: up to 5 inches long, alternate, evergreen, simple, short-stalked, narrowly elliptic. Veins are more or less parallel.
Flowers: white, small, and crowded in bottlebrush-like spikes at branch tips.
Fruit: short, cylindric or squarish, woody capsules with hundreds tiny seeds.
Seeds: it is estimated that a single tree can produce 20 million seeds per year
Distribution in Florida: Reported throughout the Central and Southern peninsula from Marion down to Monroe County.
Melaleuca produces huge quantities of seeds dispersed by winds or disturbance, which become small trees, which grow into almost impenetrable monocultures. It can grow in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats and has been especially devastating in the Everglades where it has taken over hundreds of thousands of acres altering water flow, displacing native plant species, and reducing habitat and food sources for wildlife. Additionally, it has been found in a variety of other Florida habitats, including scrub, sandhills, mesic to wet flatwoods, coastal hammocks, lakes, coastal strands, and disturbed lands.
Decontaminate all clothing, equipment, and vehicles after leaving infested areas. Dispose of melaleuca debris where it will be incinerated or buried deep in a landfill, or where seedlings and vegetative growth can be destroyed.
Seedlings and saplings can be hand pulled (taking care not to break the plant off the root system), then removed off site or placed in piles to reduce the chance of re-rooting.
Logging and mowing equipment and skid steer mulchers are sometimes used for melaleuca removal. This method is usually used during land clearing for development and for removal along canals, roadsides, and utility rights-of-way. Mechanical removal is not widely used for melaleuca control in natural areas as it is expensive and generally causes considerable soil disturbance.
5% glyphosate product (seedlings and saplings only). Aerial application of 3 quarts glyphosate product + 3 quarts Arsenal + 4 quarts methylated seed oil per acre. Follow-up ground or aerial application may be necessary. Cut stump: 10–25% Arsenal or Habitat, 50–100% glyphosate product, or 40% glyphosate product + 10% Arsenal or Habitat. Use of imazapyr provides more consistent results. Frill and girdle: 20–50% Arsenal or Habitat or 10% Arsenal or Habitat + 40% glyphosate product.
Learn more: A Property Owner’s Guide to Melaleuca Control