Leptospermum - the New Zealand native Tea Tree is one of New Zealand's finest and most floriferous native flowering shrubs. There are nearly 40 different species all native to and through out New Zealand and Australia.
The New Zealand native species L. scoparium, parent of so many brilliant hybrids, is often called "Manuka" but all are commonly known as "Tea Trees" both here and overseas.
This name originated when Captain Cook brewed a tea from the tiny leaves which became popular with early settlers. They also made brooms from the branches, tools, fencing and fuel from the timber.
Tea trees assume a graceful habit with small, fine, evergreen foliage and delicate flowers similar to peach blossom. Plants start flowering from an early age.
Various species start blooming from autumn through winter with a profuse display over a long period in spring. There are single, semi-double and double forms in shades of white, pink and red. Many fine hybrids have been developed this century and are now widely grown in the temperate zones overseas.
These come in dense and open forms with either a dwarf and compact, trailing or upright habit of growth. Various hybrid species range in size from 30cm to 8m. Tea trees are very hardy to wind, coastal conditions and salt spray.
Several species thrive on sand dunes and are used widely in reclamation projects where they become twisted and gnarled in the wind like giant bonsai.
They are also hardy to drought and tolerate considerable cold and frost. Where freezing is severe and frequent they are often sheltered against a north-facing wall. Tea trees thrive in a wide range of soils and will tolerate wet sites but prefer excellent drainage.
They will live in part shade but flower more profusely in full sun. An ideal shrub for the informal landscape, tea trees are often found in the shrub border, foundation planting, or entranceway. Dwarf varieties look great in the rockery, as bonsai or in containers. They are often used as hedges, screens, and wind breaks.
Now is an excellent time to plant so the plants will develop a good root system before the rigours of spring growth. Give the shrub a light pruning right after flowering to maintain it's shape, density and size. Do not prune into old wood if at all possible as this can kill the branch.
Easily propagated from half ripe cuttings taken in summer and plunged into a sand/peat mix. The graceful, arching flower stems are highly prised as cut flowers and are sometimes dried.
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