Melaleuca linariifolia, or Snow in Summer.
Melaleuca linariifolia, or Snow in Summer.

The tree that will let it snow in summer

Brilliant white flowers give Melaleuca linariifolia its common name of Snow in Summer. Its height ranges from five to 10m with a dense crown of soft, pale green foliage, each leaf linear in shape. From a distance, it's a sea of white, fluffy, brush-like flowers, but close-up the fragrant flowers are complex, with bundles of 30 to 60 massed stamens emanating from each floral tube. After flowering, the tiny seeds develop in woody capsules along the branches.

The trunk of Snow in Summer is another feature. It has soft, spongy, almost white paper bark - the original slow-cooker used by Aboriginal Australians. Strips of bark were placed over slow-burning embers, fish or meat added before another bark layer, then covered in soil or sand and cooked slowly.

Snow in Summer is one of about 300 melaleuca species, almost all endemic to Australia. They are a habitat and food source for birds, native bees, butterflies and small mammals.

For gardens without space for a tree, there are several cultivated shrub forms readily available from most nurseries.

Melaleuca Claret Tops is the perfect name for a 1.5m bushy shrub that develops rich deep pink to red new growth and creamy flowers. It makes a wonderful screen, informal hedge or potted specimen. A recent addition to the list of melaleuca linariifolia cultivars is Melaleuca Little Red, which as the name suggests, has brilliant red new growth.