MANUKA, TEA TREE
(Leptospermum scoparium), Kanuka (Leptospermum ericoides).
The tea trees conjure up in the mind a picture of New Zealand shrubland more than do any other plants. They are by far the commonest shrubland constituent and have undoubtedly increased greatly under the influence both of Maori and of Pakeha settlement. The English common name is derived from the fact that early white settlers did occasionally make infusions of tea from the leaves, which are aromatic. Leptospermum belongs to the Myrtaceae and the plants of this family almost invariably have gland-dotted leaves. Of the 35 species belonging to the genus, most are Australian, a few grow in Malaya and New Caledonia, and three occur in New Zealand. Besides the two given here, the third species, L. sinclairii, is confined to the Great Barrier Island.
Manuka is a bushy shrub seldom more than 12–15 ft high, but kanuka grows into a small tree up to 40 or more feet high. Both species are, however, extremely variable, especially manuka, and require critical study. Their bark sheds in long papery strips. Leaves are narrow, thick, and less than ½ in. long. Those of manuka have sharp pointed tips, while the leaves of kanuka have rounded tips. Both species flower in profusion. Manuka has showy, white flowers about ½ in. across but kanuka has much smaller flowers. The fruit are woody capsules containing numerous small, linear seed. The wood is the best known firewood in New Zealand.
The variation, including pink and reddish flower colour, found particularly in L. scoparium, has enabled a number of horticultural cultivars to be selected. These in turn have been crossed, particularly by nurserymen in California, who have introduced a number of varieties on to the market.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.