08 December 2009

Melaleuca eximia - Myrtaceae

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Melaleuca eximia - Myrtaceae

Melaleuca eximia has a conservation 'Priority Two' status (known only from a few locations) and is closely associated with granite outcrops within the mallee zone from Mt. Burdett 55 km (34 miles) NE of Esperance, to Mt Buraminya 130 km (80 miles) NE of Esperance. It grows on sand and/or gravel over granite, on rocky flats around outcrops, on soil covered loose rock, or seepage zones, although never in large numbers. In this dry region, these habitats are very tough places to survive, as they are cold and wet during winter, and very hot and dry during summer. These harsh conditions are reflected in the appearance of the shrub, which is long and lanky, with little foliage below the upper growing tips. However, the flowers are something else, being intense eye-catching scarlet, easily seen from a distance. This floral splendour is designed to attract honeyeating birds from afar in order to pollinate the flowers.

Growing to 3 metres (10') from a lignotuber, it sends up several near vertical braches with short side shoots on which the flowers develop. The foliage although coarse is not sharp and being decussate, forms a cross of leaves (X) when viewed from the top. The flowers grow to 10 cm (4") in length and 3-4 cm (1.5") in diameter, but are very dependant on weather conditions as to when and how they bloom, preferring warm, moist conditions from October to December. During dry periods (winter/spring), flowers are invariably smaller and fewer in number.

When I first saw these plants in flower, I was most impressed by their brilliance and although the rest of the shrub left much to be desired, I wondered how it would look under cultivation in less harsh conditions. Later in a good season, I came across a half grown plant at the base of Mt Buraminya that had tapped into a more regular water supply; it was reasonably bushy, with bright glossy green foliage, numerous side stems and plenty of flowers. So in the right conditions it could make a fine garden specimen.