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What is a New Zealand Tea Tree?

By N. Swensson
Updated May 16, 2024
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The New Zealand tea tree, also called a manuka, is a perennial shrub or small tree that is native to parts of New Zealand and Australia. As a shrub, it can grow from 7 feet to 16 feet (2 m to 5 m) tall; as a tree, it can grow to as much as 50 feet (15 m). The evergreen leaves have a spiny tip. The plant's flowers bloom in spring or summer and can be white, pink, or red.

The plant may be found growing wild in otherwise cleared patches of land. It also is grown in gardens and containers and can be found growing in various parts of the world. The New Zealand tea tree was named for its leaves, which are often dried and made into a tea.

New Zealand tea tree plants can be grown from seeds or cuttings. They also can be purchased in containers for planting in a garden. The plant is sometimes kept in a container and grown as a dwarf plant, similar to bonsai trees. In other cases, New Zealand tea tree can be used as a hedge or screen plant in the garden. It also can be grown as a small tree.

The climate similarities between New Zealand and California mean that the New Zealand tea tree is often grown on the California coast. This species may be grown specifically for its flowers, which are more prolific and more brightly colored than those of other tea tree species. Bees, butterflies, and birds are attracted to these flowers.

Gardeners can grow the New Zealand tea tree in sandy or clay soils, and it is often used for erosion control on sandy or rocky slopes. It will tolerate a variety of light conditions, including shade, but may not flower as much without partial or full sun. When grown as a container plant, it can be susceptible to root rot, so overwatering should be avoided. It is a good plant to use in xeriscapes, because it can do well with very little water.

The Maori tribe of New Zealand has traditionally used manuka for a variety of purposes. It can be used for firewood, and the aromatic bark is a good flavoring for smoking and grilling foods. The plant's antibacterial properties mean the crushed leaves and the essential oil have been used as a traditional medicine. A uniquely flavored honey can also be made from this plant.

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Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Feb 12, 2014

@clintflint - I'm not a big fan of the tea, but I love the honey that comes from this kind of flower. I just wish it wasn't so expensive. It can be upwards of $40 per jar, because they use it in medical labs as a dressing. It's got a lot of curative properties, but I just really like the taste.

By clintflint — On Feb 11, 2014

@Iluviaporos - I doubt you could harvest the leaves regularly if you were growing the tree as a bonsai. If you just have it as a small bush inside in a large pot, maybe you could get away with it, but generally if something is being grown in a small pot it doesn't grow very fast. And if they are used as erosion control, that presumably means that they have fairly extensive root systems, so growing one in a confined area will probably stunt it.

But if you live somewhere where it grows outside, there are probably more than enough of them around to get a few leaves if you want to try brewing the tea.

By lluviaporos — On Feb 11, 2014

I didn't know you could keep this kind of tree as a bonsai. I wonder if it would grow fast enough that you could use the leaves as a tea?

It's worth noting that the oil it produces isn't exactly the same as the tea tree oil products that you get in the United States. That's usually taken from an Australian plant, which I think is related but not exactly the same.

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