The New Zealand tea tree is native to the North and South islands of New Zealand where it grows in many types of habitats, ranging from lowland bogs and sandy coastal headlands, to forest and mountain scrub-lands over 3,500 ft. in elevation. These are mostly cool and moist habitats. The true species is highly variable in form and is not considered to be of value for ornamental use. Instead, many attractive cultivars have been developed that range from prostrate and dwarf forms, to upright shrubs and small trees. They are all characterized by small prickly foliage, a dense branching habit and tiny colorful flowers. Flowers occur from winter through spring.
The most popular cultivars of New Zealand tea used in Inland Empire gardens grow into large flowering shrubs, 10-12 ft. high, that are useful for screening and flowering accent plants. Mature plants can be pruned to reveal sculptural branching and become focal elements in raised planters. They grow well in full sun, adapt to many types of soils and thrive with moderate amounts of supplemental moisture during the dry months of the year. Popular cultivars include: L. s. ‘Apple Blossom’ has double pink flowers, L. s. ‘Helene Strybing’ has single pink flowers, L. s. ‘Ruby Glow’ has double blood-red flowers, and L. s. ‘Snow White’ has double white flowers.