Our Tree of the Month, May 2020

Every month, we aim to feature one Australian native species as bonsai, with reference as to how that species grows in the wild.

This month, May 2020, our feature tree is Leptospermum laevigatum, commonly known as Coastal Tea Tree, which has been a favourite species of many of our club members, and which has proved itself as a species which can be used in a wide variety of styles. With a small, oval leaf form, interesting flaky bark, and ready response to training and wiring of younger branches, this tree has been grown as spectacular windswept bonsai, as well as informal upright trees, and plenty of other styles reflecting the natural growth habits and adapability of the tree.

This species has a natural distribution across coastal areas of south eastern Australia, primarily in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales, and particularly on sandy dunes. It has, however, also been grown extensively in South Australia, Western Australia and south east Queensland, and has been introduced to a number of overseas countries, including locations in South Africa, New Zealand, California and Hawaii.

Coastal Tea Tree grows in a fascinating variety of forms, and the influences of its coastal exposure often results in trees with strange, twisted shapes naturally. The trunks of mature trees are characterized by their rough, ropy and twisted appearance, with thin, flaky bark.

The two photos above show some of the forms exhibited by trees in coastal Victoria, while below are a couple of examples of Leptospermum laevigatum as Bonsai.

Leptospermum laevigatum in a coastal context
Coastal Cliffs

In addition to this species of Leptospermum, there are about 83 species of Tea-tree across Australia, with 17 species in Victoria. Many of these species, including some of the available cultivars, are highly regarded as bonsai material.