Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Reproductive biology of Melaleuca alternifolia (Myrtaceae) 1. Floral biology

L. Baskorowati A D , M. W. Moncur B , J. C. Doran C and P. J. Kanowski A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A The Fenner School, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

B 19 Sherwin Place, Melba, ACT 2000, Australia.

C Australian Tree Seed Centre, CSIRO Plant Industry, PO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Emails:;

Australian Journal of Botany 58(5) 373-383
Submitted: 8 February 2010  Accepted: 17 May 2010   Published: 21 July 2010


Melaleuca alternifolia (Maiden & Betche) Cheel is commercially important as the source of essential oil for the Australian tea tree-oil industry. Information on reproductive biology of M. alternifolia is important to the Australian breeding program directed at improving the quality and quantity of tea tree oil. Flowering in three geographically separated sites – two planted seed orchards and one managed natural population, all in NSW – was observed in the present study, with supporting data obtained from glasshouse-grown plants in Canberra. The majority of the work was conducted from 2004 to 2007, although the study also drew on some prior observations. M. alternifolia has spikes of flowers that open acropetally over a 6-day period. No strong separation of male and female phases was found in any individual flower; pollen was shed by 1.4 days after anthesis and the stigma reached peak receptivity 3–5 days after anthesis. Dichogamy and acropetal floral development may lead to geitonogamy. Flowering occurred during the months of October–November, with the peak in November, and was synchronous across all three sites. Flowering intensity and success in producing capsules appeared to be associated with total spring rainfall. Initiation of flowering in M. alternifolia appears to be correlated with daylength, or an environmental parameter closely correlated with daylength. Flowering intensity varied considerably among the years surveyed, sites and families, and appears to be promoted by a period of winter minimum temperatures below 5°C. In M. alternifolia, the morphological development of buds, flowers and fruit leading to the development of mature seed takes place over a period 16–18 months from flowering. M. alternifolia differed significantly in the number of viable seeds per capsule from individual trees, from 26 ± 3.8 to 57 ± 3.8 germinants.


We acknowledge the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research for awarding a John Allwright Post Graduate Fellowship to the first author. We also thank ANUs Dr Cheng Huang and Dr Roger Heady for SEM work and Dr Emlyn Williams for statistical advice and analyses and CSIROs Dr Saul Cunningham for advice during the course of the study. Additional field support and data were provided by Gary Baker (NSW DPI), Paul Warburton (CSIRO), Geoff Davis (GR Davis P/L) and T. Marnane. Infrastructure support came from ANU, CSIRO, and NSW DPI through the RIRDC/ATTIA tea-tree breeding program. Thanks also go to Dr Teguh Triono for illustrating the M. alternifolia flower.


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