Melaleuca quinquenervia, known as “Paper bark tree” or “Broad-leaved tea tree” in English and “Niaouli” in French, belongs to the Myrtaceae botanical family. Native to New Caledonia and Australia, it is a tree, 8–12 m tall on average, growing along streams and estuaries, in marshes and seasonal swamps. An ornamental throughout the tropics, the tree is also grown to stabilize denuded soils.
The essential oil obtained from the leaves, called « Niaouli », is widely used as an insect repellent and a flavouring for food and pharmaceutical products.
Indigenous Australians used it as a drug for the treatment of coughs including whooping cough, rheumatism, neuralgia and chronic catarrhs of the pulmonary membrane.
The foliar leaf oils fall into 2 classes. One chemotype is rich in nerolidol; the other is 1,8-cineole, a-terpineol and sesquiterpene viridiflorol. It is the cineole-rich chemotype that is the source of niaouli oil.