Gelam Wangi



Botanical Names

Melaleuca alternafolia Cheel 

Common Names

Malaysia Gelam wangi.
English Tea tree.



Well grown ‘gelam wangi’  on bris sandy soil


‘Gelam wangi’ is a perennial plant, native to Australia. It grows wild on sandy soils in New South Wales. It is famously known for its essential oil content which has been used as an antibiotic since hundreds of years ago. In Malaysia, ‘gelam wangi’ was first cultivated in Perlis and Kedah in 1993.[1]

Morphological Features

‘Gelam wangi’ is a woody plant that can grow to 4-7 m tall. Leaves are small, linear blade shape 10-35 mm long and 1 mm wide, green and spirally arranged. When crushed, the leaf is aromatic due to its essential oil content. The flowers are produced at the tip of branches, whitish and bisexual. Fertilised flowers will develope into seed pods of 2 mm diametre and 3 mm long containing 100-150 of minute dark-coloured seeds.[1]

Medicinal Properties and Usage

The essential oil extracted from the fresh leaves and twigs is well known for antiseptic and antifungal properties. It is used for treating stings, burns, wounds and skin infections of all kinds. It is also believed to have beneficial cosmeceutical properties and used for the treatment of acne, dandruff and tinea problems. Thus, it is now widely used in manufacturing products such as soaps, mouthwashes, ointments, shampoos and deodorants.[1]

Soil Suitability and Climatic Requirement

‘Gelam wangi’ grows well on tropical soils with good drainage, fertile, with 18-31.40C temperature and 1,200-1,600 mm annual rainfall. Crops planted on fertile soils will grow faster and produce bigger canopy.[1]

Field Preparation

Land Preparation

Normal operation such as land clearing, disc ploughing and rotovation have to be conducted before planting. Field drainage system has to be established in areas that are easily waterlogged.[1]

Production of Planting Materials

‘Gelam wangi’ is propagated by seeds. Seeds at the rate of 0.5 g/m2 are sown in sowing trays or beds. The use of pathogen free or sterilised sowing media is strongly recommended. The seeds germinate after 7-10 days and subsequently at 5 to 7-leaf stage the seedlings are transferred into polybags (10 cm x 15 cm). Fungicide is sprayed regularly to control damping-off disease. The seedlings are ready for field planting after 3 months in polybags.[1]

Field Planting

For a two-row avenue planting, the seedlings are planted at 0.6 m (between rows) x 0.4 m (within a row) with 1.5 m avenue width which will give a population density of 23,810 plants/ha. Large scale planting can be mechanised and in areas where flash flood is pertinent, it can be planted on raised beds.[1]

‘Gelam wangi’ seedlings ready for field planting

The recommended planting distance is 60 cm between rows and 40 cm within plants in a row

Field Maintenance


The rate of fertiliser depends on soil types. For clay loam soil, fertiliser (N:P2O5:K2O ) at the rate of 200:50:70 kg/ha is recommended. Whereas for sandy bris soil, 10 t/ha chicken manure and 240:240:340 kg/ha of N:P2O5:K2O are recommended. Fertilisers such as NPK (15:15:15) or NPK (12:12:17:2) can be used but the amount has to be equally divided and applied within 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th month of planting. The same rate of fertiliser is repeated for the ratoon crops.[1][3][4]

Weed Control

Weed problem can be controlled by spraying pre-emergence herbicide at planting. Later, weed control is done by spraying contact herbicide or by using grass-cutter.[1]

Water Management

Sprinkler or rain-gun irrigation system is recommended for this crop. Supplementary irrigation is critical particularly at the early crop establishment stage.[1]

Pest and Disease Control

So far, there is no serious pest and disease observed for this crop. Nonetheless, termites need to be looked for as it may cause some damages to the plants in the field.[1]


‘Gelam wangi’ can be harvested 7-12 months after planting, depending on crop growth. Harvesting is done by cutting the plants at 15-30 cm above ground. On clay loam soil, the biomass yields is 20 t/ha or equivalent to 150-200 kg/ha essential oil with 0.7-1.0% oil recovery. Whereas on sandy bris soil, the biomass yield is 12.5-17.3 t/ha or equivalent to 115-136 litres/ha essential oil with 0.78-0.92% (vol/wt) oil recovery. After harvesting, the plants will produce new shoots which will develop into new foliage that can be harvested again after 6 months. This practice can be repeated further whereby a good ‘gelam wangi’ crop is expected to be economically productive for 10 years. On clay loam soil, the biomass yields of first and second ratoon are 25 and 30 t/ha respectively.[1][3][4][5]

Fully grown plants (7-12 months after planting) ready for first harvest

Postharvest Handling

The harvested biomass need to be immediately brought to collection centre, chopped into smaller pieces and loaded into distiller. The oil distillation process will take about 3 hours.[1]

Estimated Cost Of Production

The production cost for one hectare crop of ‘gelam wangi’ is estimated at RM18,700, RM15,600 and RM15,500 respectively for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year onwards. Thus, at the yield levels of 20, 25 and 30 t/ha the production cost per kilogramme biomass are RM0.90, RM0.60 and RM0.50 respectively.  Similarly, the production cost of a kilogramme of essential oil is RM83-RM111 for oil yield of 120-200 kg. The production cost was estimated based on the cost of current inputs during writing of this article.[1]

Read More

  1) Essential Oil

  2) Safety

  3) Medicinal Herbs


  1. Ahmad Puat, N., Mansor, P. and Engku Ismail, E.A. (2005). Tea tree (Melaleuca alternafolia Cheel). In: Penanaman tumbuhan ubatan & beraroma. (Musa, Y., Muhammad Ghawas, M. and Mansor, P., ed.). Pg. 135-140, Serdang: MARDI
  2. Kamarudin Mat-Salleh and Latiff, A. (editor). 2002. Tumbuhan Ubatan Malaysia. Pg.  427, Bangi : UKM
  3. Ahmad Puat, N., Abd. Rahman Azmil, I., Mansor, P. and Ahmad, A.W. (2002). Effect of plant density, nitrogen fertiliser and harvesting frequency on the performance of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). Paper presented at Workshop on RMK7, Research Project Achievements, RIC Centre, 20-21 August 2002,Terengganu. Organiser: MARDI.
  4. Engku Ismail, E.A. and Wan Zaki, W.M. (2004). Response of organic and inorganic fertilisers on growth and yield of tea tree on sandy bris soil. Paper presented at Seminar on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants 2004. 20-21 July 2004, Kepong, Selangor. Organiser: FRIM.
  5. Engku Ismail, E.A. and Wan Zaki, W.M. (2005). Prestasi tanaman tea tree di tanah Bris. Paper presented at Seminar Kebangsaan Teknologi Pengeluaran Tanaman Di Tanah Bris, 6-7 September 2005, Kota Bharu, Kelantan.