Melaleuca irbyana project

Comparing the ecological and physiological traits of the critically endangered tree Melaleuca irbyana to the more commonly distributed Melaleuca bracteata

This project is generously funded by Logan City Council, which has also supplied a great deal of invaluable in-kind support.

Melaleuca irbyana (swamp tea-tree) is a small to medium tree, 8-12 m high, with papery bark and tiny leaves. Melaleuca irbyana communities are listed federally as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and is protected under the Beaudesert Shire Planning scheme 2007 as an overlay in the Nature Conservation Overlay.

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Map of the the local region where the impacts of urban encroachment are intensifying.

Remaining populations of Melaleuca irbyana’s co-occur with areas of South East Queensland that are experiencing the highest urban expansion rates and is therefore under threat from increased clearing and common effects of increasing urbanisation such as eutrophication. Recent mapping activities found only 998 hectares of Melaleuca irbyana forest in its original form, which is just 8.1% of its pre-European distribution. In Australia, there are approximately 250 species in the Melaleuca genera with some species being widely distributed and others having a very limited distribution. Not only is its habitat under threat, but Melaleuca irbyana is also a species with a limited original distribution; therefore, it may have a set of reproductive, water-use and nutrient-use traits that explains its limited distribution and if understood could aid its recovery.

The purpose of this study is to assist in more effective management of existing populations of Melaleuca irbyana and improve the efficacy for future Melaleuca irbyana revegetation projects. We will do this by measuring a number of key ecological and physiological traits of Melaleuca irbyana (adults and seedlings) and compare these characteristics to the more common Melaleuca bracteata that overlaps in its distribution with Melaleuca irbyana.

The characteristics measured will assist with both the more effective management of Melaleuca irbyana by allowing us to pinpoint the traits that are likely limiting survival and expansion of Melaleuca irbyana. We will quantify the following traits for both species: germination rates and cues, seedling growth and development, adult growth rates, seedling and adult water and nutrient-uptake.


Typical old-growth Melaleuca irbyana forest—gorgeous!


Viola betonicifolia–what a cutie!


Eleanor and Thita taking soil samples


Melaleuca bracteata is a commonly distributed species often found growing on the periphery of denser Melaleuca irbyana communities.


Natural regeneration of Melaleuca irbyana


Common tick orchid, Dockrillia linguiforme, often found growing along the branches of Melaleuca irbyana.


Jack and Thita setting up for our reciprocal tree planting experiment.


Eleanor and Jack planting seedlings.


Old growth Melaleuca irbyana at Purga Nature Reserve the largest remaining population of this critically endangered species at around 14 ha.


13 Responses to Melaleuca irbyana project

  1. carol beaumont says:

    This looks great! I adore melaleuca irbyana – can you please tell me where to get one?

    • jenfirn says:

      Dear Carol,

      Thank you so much for the comment, I agree it is such a cute tree that forms such a unique ecosystem! We like to think of it as the koala of endangered plants. 🙂 I suggest calling the Greening Australia nursery if you would like to purchase one for your own garden.

      Best wishes,


      • Liz Gould says:

        The nursery at The Gap is no longer run by Greening Australia, but is still exists at the Paten Park community nursery (rung by SOWN volunteers). I don’t think they stock Melaleuca irbyana, but you could try, however nurseries such as Pete’s Hobby Nursery (ph 5426 1690 or email and Ecological Connections (email often do.

      • Carol Beaumont says:

        Hi – oh dear I never saw this until just now! Thanks for the info though – are there more stockists of this lovely tree? I had one a number of years back which grew very well but we lost it (and many other shrubs and plants) when our house was underpinned. I tried another one a few years ago but lost that one in its infancy as I was trying to pull up some pyrostegia venusta which invaded from the back neighbors – imho this should really be declared an invasive weed!!!!! So I am hoping that I can find another irbyana and see it grow and thrive….!!!!!

      • Carol Beaumont says:

        Ha! I may have answered my own question – I see that wallum nurseries at tingalpa appear to have them which is exciting – hope they will let me buy one plant

  2. Liz Gould says:

    HI Jennifer, your project is of great interest! We’ve been supporting Swamp Tea-tree Forest recovery and conservation for several years now, including finer scale mapping, weed and fire management and planting activities, mostly with private landholders, but also on Council land. I’d love to hear more about your project and its findings as the project progresses.

    • jenfirn says:

      Dear Liz,

      Thank you for touching base. I am so pleased that the project is of great interest! I would really love to hear more about what you are doing on private land as well–as we see so much of Melaleuca irbyana on private land that I think what you are doing is really important. It would be great to have a meeting sometime if you are interested to chat more? Thanks again for the supportive comment.

      Best wishes,


  3. Randall Kirkwood says:

    I have only just discovered your project and read the comments. I live next to the Purga Nature reserve which is a great pleasure and privilege. The irbyana grows readily from seed using a good seed raising mix and the other key method of attaining plants is the Ipswich City Council nursery in Queens Park, Ipswich.
    They are open Saturday morning and Wednesday?, Thursday? or Friday (two of these days but I work and only go on Saturday check the ICC website)

    • jenfirn says:

      Dear Randall,

      Thank you so much for the information. I completely agree, you are very lucky to live right next to such a beautiful reserve.

      Thanks again for the information on how to grow irbyana and where to buy some.

      Best wishes,


  4. Ed Meyer says:

    Looking forward to reading more about your M. irbyana study. Was wondering how often you come across Viola betonicifolia in areas dominated by M. irbyana, and whether you know of any areas with moderate densities of V. betonicifolia which might be suitable for the endangered Australian fritillary butterfly (the larvae of which feed exclusively on V. betonicifolia )?


    • jenfirn says:

      Dear Ed,

      Thanks for the comment, and nice to hear from you—as I think we tutored together at UQ many years ago now? We should have some results very soon from the project so we will definitely be reporting them here. We have mainly found a high density of Viola betonicifolia within the most intact remnants of M. irbyana at Henderson Reserve and Purga Reserve. Thanks for letting me know about the endangered Australian fritillary butterfly, I was not aware of it but we will keep our eyes peeled for it now that is for sure.

      Thanks again for the interest and important details about the endangered Australian fritillary butterfly.

      Best wishes,


      • Ed Meyer says:

        Thought I’d follow up my post re. Melaleuca irbyana/Viola betenicifolia with an e-mail, but had it bounce from your qut e-mail account. Here’s the content of that e-mail again:

        Not sure if you’re aware of it or not, but there’s M. irbyana growing on elevated land along a powerline easement within Karawatha Forest Park. As I recall, it looks like it may have germinated from seed brought in from outside the park. It’s an interesting location for M. irbyana to be growing and might be of interest to your PhD student. Let me know if you want more details.

        Would be keen to head out to those M. irbyana reserves with V. betenicifolia and search for larvae/adults of the Australian fritillary some time. Are these sites accessible to the public? If not, would I be able to tag along with your PhD student when they head out there again?


  5. jenfirn says:

    Dear Ed, thanks so much that is weird that my email bounced from my QUT account. Please feel free to email there or here that is no problem.

    I didn’t know about the M. irbyana populations at Karawatha Forest Park, I would be really interested to find out where they are as I think it would be of interest to the research. Thank you very much!

    Both Henderson and Purga reserves are open for the public. You are also welcome to come out with us as well. We will probably start up field work again in September or October depending on rain etc.—probably a good time to look anyway. I can contact you directly around that time if you like?



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