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Leptospermum scoparium J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. 1775 cv.
pronounced: lep-toh-SPER-mum skop-AIR-ee-um cultivar
(Myrtaceae – the gum family)
common names: Manuka, Dwarf Leptospermum
Leptospermum is from the Greek λεπτος (leptos), slender, and σπερμα (sperma), a seed, and scoparium from the Latin scoparius, broom-like. The type of broom referred to is the besom, made from a bundle of twigs tied to a pole. Besoms are used extensively by European gardeners to sweep up leaves, and by witches for transport. I have not seen besoms in North Queensland, but I am told they are used in Western Australia, and are available in the markets in Perth. In Maori tradition, a manuka was one of the great ocean-going, voyaging canoes that was used in the migrations that settled New Zealand.
These are two dwarf cultivars. ‘Huia’ has rose-pink flowers in clusters, with crimson-pink centres. It grows to about 30 cm by 45 cm, in full sun to part shade, and is very hardy. In our climate, it flowers abundantly for most of the year. The foliage is tiny, dark green and glossy, and nestles on reddish branches. ‘Kea’ has almost white flowers with crimson-pink centres. Its foliage tends to be purple-green in colour. Both of these cultivars prefer a rich, well-drained soil, and will tolerate coastal conditions. They can be pruned as desired, and are ideal for small hedges and borders, for general landscaping, and in pots.
Leptospermum scoparium itself is a shrub about 2 m high, with firm and close bark, and the younger stems silky. The leaves are variable, broad-lanceolate, 7–15 mm long, 2–6 mm wide, the margins incurved, new growth silvery pubescent; the apex is often acuminate, the base usually tapering to a short, often stout, petiole. The flowers are solitary, usually more-or-less 1 cm in diameter, white, rarely pink or red.
Manuka honey from this plant is now quite widely used in hospitals to treat ulcers and burns, and for post-surgery wound care. This honey has natural antibiotic properties, without the side-effects of most antibiotics, and is often useful where patients have built up a resistance against antibiotics, or are allergic to them.
The honey can be very difficult to collect, due to the remote locations of the forests, mostly in New Zealand, from which it is obtained. It is also difficult to get 100% pure manuka honey, as other floral sources flower at the same time; so the best honey is sourced from forests that have the plant as the dominant species, and in areas that are pollution-free. The leading producers take great pains to produce high quality manuka honey, which is reflected in the high prices charged for it.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008, 2012
Page last updated 922nd December 2016