Melaleuca styphelioides, or Prickly Paperbark, is a ready favourite species for many bonsai growers, with its characteristic fast growth rate, its ability to respond readily to pruning, wiring and trimming, and its classic papery bark developing in quite young plants.
This species, one of many in the Melaleuca genus, has a natural distribution mostly in the moister coastal areas of New South Wales and into Queensland. It is found mostly along waterways, as well as in some tableland areas. Prickly Paperbark has been used extensively as an ornamental street tree in Sydney and Melbourne, and has been widely planted in parks, gardens and in farm shelterbelts, due to its ability to thrive in a variety of environmental conditions.
The classic form of Prickly Paperbark in the open is an upright tree of up to 20m height, with a dense crown of small, tight, pointed leaves, with spikes of small, creamy white flowers in the bottlebrush form. The papery bark readily peels off the trunk in large strips.
When grown as a bonsai, this species responds readily to repotting, root pruning, wiring and branch pruning, allowing for development of a wide variety of styles.
This is, of course, just one of the great diversity of Melaleuca species native to many parts of Australia. Others of this genus vary widely in their growth habits, leaf shapes, bark characteristics, and most of these other species are also readily grown as Bonsai. More will be featured at later dates.