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Paperbark Trees – useful and beautiful

Landscape Photography with marysejansenart

A life in the swamps

Paperbark Trees - Peek through the Paperbark Forest by Maryse Jansen
Paperbark Trees – Peek through the Paperbark Forest

There’s something special about a Paperbark Forest. The trees are stunning with their white papery bark and dominate the landscape which is buzzing with mosquito’s and birds all around. I don’t enjoy the mozzies but I’m dressed with long pants and sleeves and sprayed with repellent because I do want to explore this place regardless!

Like Eucalyptus trees, Melaleucas belong to the family of Myrtaceae. There are about 300 species of Melaleucas, which include Paperbark Trees as well as Tea Trees. After Eucalyptus and Wattle, Melaleuca is Australia’s 3rd most common forest type! The Broad-leaved Paperbark is probably the most well known paperbark tree in eastern Australia and that is the tree that I will talk about in this article.

Take a Walk in the Paperbark Forest by Maryse Jansen
Take a Walk in the Paperbark Forest

Broad-leaved Paperbark Trees: a life in the swamps

Broad-leaved Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia) prefers coastal swampy areas, hence the mosquitos! It is native to eastern Australia and grows in wet places like swamps, marshes, estuaries, riverbanks and floodplains. These trees don’t mind getting their ‘feet’ wet and can tolerate being inundated for extensive periods of time. The swamp water looks tea-coloured because of the tannins that leach out of the trees. Melaleuca trees carry these chemicals to deter fungi and bacteria that would otherwise easily make them rot in this wet environment.

The Broad-leaved Paperbark Tree is a small to medium sized tree that usually grows 8-15m tall but occasionally can get up to 25m tall! It is often the dominant species in its ecosystem. You can see this clearly in the photos. When the ground dries out and a bush fire rages through, these trees cope really well with that too. They can resprout really quickly and be seen flowering again within no more then a couple of weeks after the fire! They can live for 100 years!

Broad-leaved Paperbark flowers, leaves and bark

The flowers have a very strong smell. To me it’s a bit onion-like, quite pungent. They are creamy-white and look a bit like bottle-brush flowers and appear from spring through to autumn. Their colouring matches the creamy-white colour of the bark and contrasts with the dark grey-green leaves. A wide range of insects, birds and fruit bats consume the nectar, pollen or even the whole flower. The Little Red Flying Fox is one of them!

Paperbark Tree Flower by Maryse Jansen
Paperbark Tree Flower and Leaves

The leaves clearly distinguish this tree from the other paperbark variants. They are large oval-shaped leaves, up to 12cm long and 2.5cm wide. They have five distinct longitudinal veins, which explains the name ‘Quinquinerva’ which literally means five nerves.

The bark, the main feature of the tree, consists of several layers of peeling papery material, which makes it feel a bit sponge-like when you press your hand to the trunk. No wonder Aboriginal people have found so many amazing uses for this Paperbark bark!

Bark uses:

  • Several layers of stripped off bark is used for roofing their shelters.
  • The softness of multiple layers of bark makes a perfect sleeping mat!
  • It could even be used as a baby sling!
  • Bandages: single layers are really thin and are perfect to treat wounds.
  • The bark also gets used as a wrapper for food to be cooked in ground ovens.
  • It can be lit and used as a torch.
  • Another common use of the bark is to draw artworks on it!

In my Nature-bite project I featured an image of paperbark close up which you can see below so you can get an idea of all the layers! Besides being useful, this bark also gives the tree its looks! It’s beautiful how it stands out in the landscape and I find it very intriguing to observe it close up as well. Lots of small critters find a place to hide in between all the nooks and crannies of the layered bark.

Nature-bite #29 Paperbark by Maryse Jansen
Paperbark Close Up

The flowers are also useful to the Aboriginal peoples:

  • Flowers are used for their nectar, extracted by washing it through the water, creating a sweet drink.
  • The honey of course is also popular.

Medicinal properties of the Broad-leaved Paperbark

Finally, the tree has some amazing medicinal properties:

Warning: never try these yourself unless you have consulted an expert

  • Leaves and/or bark can be crushed and brewed to treat colds, coughs and general sickness.
  • Leaves could also be chewed to treat head colds.
  • Inhaling the smoke of burning leaves and bark is also thought to help with respiratory sickness.
  • Externally, leaves and bark could be applied to treat cuts and sores.
  • The essential oil of Melaleuca Quinquinerva can be used to treat respiratory infections, bladder infections and rheumatism.

The oil has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. The tannins, mentioned above, play an important role here: when applied, they contract the tissues, combating inflammation of mucous membranes. This is why it works so well on head colds. It also helps to disinfect and heal wounds.

What an interesting and useful tree! And, from a photographic perspective, it’s absolutely beautiful as well!

Read about other useful plants in the Australian Bush here!

If you are interested in purchasing ‘Peek through the Paperbark Forest’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various products, please head to my shop. If you prefer ‘Take a Walk in the Paperbark Forest’, click shop here.

In the latest episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’ you will see some views of a Paperbark Forest as well as some other interesting sightings! Enjoy!

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