Tea-tree, belbowrie

Melaleuca quinquenervia

Tea-tree or belbowrie (Clemson, p. 116) is a major honey and pollen source for North Coast NSW and Southern Queensland beekeepers, although agricultural and urban development as well as coastal national parks are reducing the availability of this valuable resource. Belbowrie, should not be mistaken for oil tea-tree. The oil tea-tree is Melaleuca alternifolia.

The pollen is high quality with a crude protein level of 30%. Iso-leucine is slightly low, but the high crude protein level compensates for any loss in digestibility (Table 13). Kleinschmidt (1984) reports a crude protein level as high as 35% to 37%.

From February to June, the tree has a flush of flowers every three to four weeks. Each flush may last for 10 to 20 days. The best flowerings are those in February and March when large quantities of both nectar and pollen are collected by the bees. The queen bee will often lay 3 to 4 frames of eggs in the first few days of the tree flowering. If it doesn't rain and the bees can continue to collect and store tea-tree pollen and nectar for 10 days or more, then the high quality and extra quantity of this pollen source enable the hive to be strong and productive. Nutrition is good and disease incidence is low. Under such conditions bees have been known to swarm. However, these good times are the exception and not the rule.

The probability of rain in February and March is very high, and often the tea-tree flowering will be washed out within 3 to 7 days of flowering. Should rain wash the nectar and pollen out of the flowers there will be no spare pollen and nectar to feed the young brood. At such times, nutritional diseases like nosema and European brood disease occur within the beehives.

Tea-tree pollen is useful for feedback to bees. It is easy to trap and a strong hive will produce 500 to 800 grams of pollen per day. However rain and high humidity at this time mean that the traps need to be emptied frequently.

Many coastal beekeepers are reviewing their use of tea-tree as an economic floral source. The excessive clearing of tea-tree swamps for agricultural and urban development, the loss of access due to swamps being placed within national parks, and the nosema problems associated with this tree are all encouraging beekeepers to look for alternative autumn flowers.

The more southern stands of tea-tree around Kempsey and Taree are known to be regular producers of tea-tree honey.

Flying foxes also feed very actively on tea-tree.

Table 13: Tea-tree, belbowrie Melaleuca quinquenervia

Minimum % of Amino-Acid from De Groot (1953)

autumn 1988

Casino autumn 1988
2.6  3.0 
4.4  4.7 
4.9  2.2 
5.4  5.9 
3.4* 3.6*
3.4  3.7 
6.7 6.3 
2.9  3.1 
11.8  9.3 
Crude protein
30.3% 30.8%

* Low level of this amino-acid


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