Book Reviews

Melaleucas: A Field and Garden Guide


by Ivan Holliday

Reviewed by R. D. McKinnon AM

Curator, Brisbane Botanic Gardens

I do so admire Australian plant authors who, often with limited financial resources and in retirement write, illustrate and photograph seminal works that further our understanding of our own Australian native flora.

Such a book has just been published: Melaleucas: A Field and Garden Guide by my good friend of 35+ years, South Australian author, Ivan Holliday OAM.

Known internationally as one of the early Australian native plant enthusiasts, his writings in tandem with my Plant Identification Lecturer, the late Ron Hill, were some of the earliest photographic and descriptive field guides of Australian native plants, while his book:  Growing Australian Plants with retired Director of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, Noel Lothian OBE, is still highly regarded as a trail blazer in the native plant/book/genre.

Why haven’t we used more melaleucas in our gardens? They used to form the framework of every self-respecting ‘native’ garden!  Many are hardy and adaptable, and there are species for every situation.  They come in many shapes and sizes and their spectacular flowers display an array of vibrant colours.

A member of the very large family Myrtaceae, the genus Melaleuca is widespread in Australia, from the tropical north where paperbark swamps are common, through the arid inland, often in sandy or gravelly soils, to the wet, cold coastal areas of western Tasmania.  Whilst Australia is the home of most Melaleuca species, a few tropical ones extend beyond Australia to the north, where they are found in places such as New Guinea, New Caledonia and Malesia. It was in fact from one of these species found outside Australia that the generic name was derived.

The genus was founded in the eighteenth century by Carolus Linnaeus and named from the Greek melas, meaning black, and leucos, white, apparently because of the tree’s black trunk (probably charred by fire) and white-barked upper branches.

A team lead by Lyn Craven of the National Herbarium, CSIRO, Canberra, has revised the genus, describing 255 species in Australia, some of which extend to Malesia and New Caledonia. M. howeana, from Australia’s Lord Howe Island, is not included in this revision nor in this book.  There are seven other species which occur only in New Caledonia.

The 255 species described for Australia, however, include 36 species which were Callistemon, and because this change which was not published or accepted at the time of writing the book, these 36 species have been omitted from this edition.  Furthermore, the revision team is examining some plants now under the M. uncinata umbrella, a study expected to add more species, three being included here (M. concreta, M. hamata and M. osullivanii).

This book then includes the 219 described Melaleuca species, the three named above in the M. uncinata study, 16 subspecies, 5 varieties and 10 garden forms and un-named species, a total of 253 different melaleucas.  It totally revises and combines relevant information which was published in Ivan’s earlier books on Melaleucas.

Ivan Holliday’s first book on melaleucas – or paperbarks – was published in 1989. It was reprinted in 1996 and he later published a smaller second volume to keep readers up to date with rearrangements and name changes within this group. Only now does this book bring all melaleucas together in one volume. These books are the very building blocks of future literary endeavours and will greatly advance our knowledge of Australian plants.

“Melaleucas: A Field and Garden Guide” comes very highly recommended.  Buy one copy for yourself and one for a friend’s birthday.

Price: $29.95  +  postage $8.00

Available from:


PO Box 1137, Glebe. NSW. 2037

Phone: 02 9571 8222  Fax: 02 8202 9938


Copyright © 2018 Native Plants Queensland : All Rights Reserved