Q: Should we be concerned about adding melaleuca mulch to the landscape?
Q: I’ve been told melaleuca mulch can cause allergies and smells terrible. Should we be concerned about adding it to the landscape?
A: Melaleuca, Melaleuca quinquenervia, also known as punk tree, paperbark tree, or cajeput, is an invasive, exotic nuisance plant in South Florida. It was first brought to Florida from Australia around 1900. Melaleuca, which is pronounced as MEL-ah-LUKE-ah, became a common landscape tree and was used as a soil stabilizer on levees and spoil islands. It was even used in early attempts to dry up the Everglades in the hope of altering mosquito habitats and potentially providing land for developing businesses and homes. Unfortunately, like any ill-mannered visitor, it has overstayed its welcome. Melaleuca found the warm, humid weather of Florida to be just perfect and took over native flora. We now have efforts to remove the tree and use the mulch for landscaping in place of cedar and cypress. Regarding the allergy reactions, there have been studies conducted in clinical situations where pollen has caused some positive reactions. However, pollen from the melaleuca tree is generally not windborne as it must be moved from tree to tree by pollination from insects such as bees. It is unlikely that enough pollen would be left on the mulch after processing to cause allergic reactions. However, it is always best to be examined by a physician if a reaction did occur after handling melaleuca mulch. It is possible for the oils associated with the bark to cause a skin rash but be sure you have your family doctor look at anything suspicious. As far as the mulch smelling, I am afraid I may not be a good judge. Some people find the odor released by lantana offensive, but I like it. Others have told me how they love the scent of ligustrum and gardenias flowers but I find I can hardly breathe around them. I am afraid you will have to decide on your own. For more information see melaleucafactsheet.