aka Leptospermum scoparium or tea tree because the scurvy suffering Endeavour crew drunk a brew made from its leaves – probably suggested by the tangata whenua who used it medicinally themselves. Manuka actually originated in eastern Australia, but has naturalised here. Originally cleared to make way for farms, Manuka is now popular as a pioneer plant when trying to get the bush back, as Manuka honey, sawdust for smoking fish, oil for its antibiotic (leptospermone) & antibacterial qualities, excellent fire wood, tool handles, camp poles for clothes lines, parasite control by Kakariki….the list goes on.
There are many cultivars available today ranging from the dwarf ‘nana’ cultivars, up to the popular 1.5-2m ‘wiri’ series, with colours including whites, pinks & reds. They flower in spring & are useful as a low maintenance shrub once established. They can be prone to scale insect attack which secrete honeydew (another story) which grows black sooty mould, which slowly debilitates the plant. Ideally grow in the open in full sun to reduce insect attack.
Manuka is easily confused with Kanuka (aka Kunzea ericoides). Here are some differences:
Manuka is a shrub (3-4m) & lives up to 60 years, Kanuka is a tree (up to 15m) & lives longer.
Manuka flowers in spring & sporadically through summer, Kanuka in mid summer only.
Manuka leaves are prickly, Kanuka are soft
Manuka tolerates wet or dry soil, Kanuka only dry.
Manuka needs full sun, Kanuka tolerates shade.