What’s a Leptospermum?

Leptospermums are a group of native plants that are often overlooked. You may know them as Tea Trees, but that’s a very generic name that also applies to some Melaleucas. There are in fact over 80 species of Leptospermum in Australia and they occur in every state, including a couple of international ones which occur in Malaysia and New Zealand. By the way, the one from New Zealand is called Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and is used to make that very expensive Manuka honey. Closer to home we also have two famous Leptospermums that many people will be familiar with.

The Weeping Tea Tree (Leptospermum madidum) which is a common sight in parks and gardens due to its attractive weeping form and smooth bark. And the Lemon Scented Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii ssp. petersonii) which as the name suggests has strongly lemon scented foliage. Generally speaking Leptospermums are small to medium sized shrubs that produce large numbers of flowers. In some instances, for example Leptospermum “Cardwell”, the flowers may even outnumber the leaves, making the plant irresistible to bees and butterflies. Most Leptospermums grow in the scrub. However there is even one true rainforest species, Wooroonooran Tea Tree (Leptospermum wooroonooran), which is found at the top of Mt Bellenden Ker. And I doubt many gardeners down south have ever heard of it, let alone seen it for sale.

One of my favorites is the Purple Stemmed Turkey Bush (Leptospermum purpurascens). This little shrub is hardly known in cultivation, but in my opinion it has a lot going for it. It’s small and tough, tolerant of poor soils and requires very little care. However it’s the trunk that’s the outstanding feature of this species. For a couple of months each year it’s purple! And I’m not talking about a wishy-washy purple, but rather the sort of colour that makes you question its authenticity. I have to admit the first time I saw it I gave it a good rub to see if it was paint, because it certainly didn’t look like any bark I was used to.

So why are they overlooked? Well, to be quite honest, they are overlooked by customers in nurseries because they don’t look that good in pots. They’re just small plants with small leaves and there is nothing outstanding about them. It’s only once they’ve been given the opportunity to grow and flower in the garden that they become outstanding. Also because they are not great sellers, it’s often difficult to find a good range of Leptospermums in nurseries. However Yuruga Nursery usually has about a dozen different species and cultivars including the Wooroonooran Tea Tree.

Happy Gardening.