Plant of the Month — December 2007
Melaleuca lateritia A.Dietr. — Robin Redbreast Bush
December’s plant of the month, Melaleuca lateritia, sports traditional Christmas colours of bright red and green and its common name will make anglophiles nostalgic for all the snow scenes of Christmas, never complete without a Robin Redbreast sitting on an old post. Its period of optimum blooming is December, with flowers beginning in September and finishing in April. It is a shrub growing to about 2.5 m high, with flower colours ranging from brick-red to orange. Soil preferences are deep sand and moist areas such as swamps and wetlands. The range of Melaleuca lateritia extends from Eneabba in the northern wheatbelt through the south west of the State to Albany on the south coast.
The genus name of Melaleuca comes from the Greek, melas meaning black and leucos white (this refers to the black trunk and white branches of some exotic species). In the 1800’s a specimen of the plant and seeds were sent to Berlin where the seeds were propagated. The plant bloomed and the species was able to be described from a living specimen by Albert Gottfried Dietrich (1759–1856), gardener and curator of the Berlin Botanical Gardens, in Allgemeine Gartenzeitung, a German gardening newspaper of which he was editor. He named the species lateritia from the latin lateritius meaning brick-red and was keen to describe the colour accurately, stating that ‘the flowers are brick-red, not scarlet-red, and stand in a small flower spike.’
The specimen in the Berlin herbarium, along with many other Australian plant collections at the site, was, unfortunately, a casualty of the second world war.
Photo: M. Hancock
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