Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
About 170-200 species, including:
The plant genus Melaleuca is part of the myrtle family Myrtaceae and presently contains about 170 species. However most experts believe that the addition of presently unnamed or incorrectly named species will result in a total of more than 200 members. Most are endemic to Australia but example occur in the wild as far afield as Indonesia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and even Malaysia.
They are shrubs and trees growing (depending on species) to 2-30 m tall, with flaky, exfoliating bark. The leaves are evergreen, alternately arranged, ovate to lanceolate, 1-25 cm long and 0.5-7 cm broad, with an entire margin, dark green to grey-green in colour. The flowers are produced in dense clusters along the stems, each flower with fine small petals and a tight bundle of stamens; flower colour varies from white to pink, red, pale yellow or greenish. The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous minute seeds.
In the wild, melaleucas are generally found in open forest, woodland or shrubland, particularly along watercourses and the edges of swamps.
Common names of many Australasian genera are inaccurate and unhelpful. In consequence, the best-accepted common name for Melaleuca is simply melaleuca; however most of the larger species are also known as paperbarks, and the smaller types as honey myrtles. Some melaleucas are used in the manufacture of an essential oil called tea tree oil and called "tea trees", which is confusing, as "tea tree" has also been used for several other plants, including Leptospermum, a related and superficially similar-looking genus.
Scientific studies have shown that tea tree oil made from Melaleuca alternifolia is a highly effective topical antibacterial and antifungal, although it may be toxic when ingested internally in large doses or by children. In rare cases, topical products can be absorbed by the skin and result in toxicity.
- Takarada K et al., 2004. A comparison of the antibacterial efficacies of essential oils against oral pathogens. Oral Microbiol. Immunol. 19 (1): 61-64.
- Hammer KA et al., 2003. Susceptibility of oral bacteria to Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in vitro. Oral Microbiol. Immunol. 18 (6): 389-392.
- Hammer KA et al., 2003. Antifungal activity of the components of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil. J. Appl. Microbiol. 95 (4): 853-860.
- Oliva B et al., 2003. Antimycotic activity of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil and its major components. Lett. Appl. Microbiol. 37 (2): 185-187.
- Mondello F et al., 2003. In vitro and in vivo activity of tea tree oil against azole-susceptible and -resistant human pathogenic yeasts. J. Antimicrob. Chemother. 51 (5): 1223-1229. Epub 2003 Mar 28.
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