Obtained by steam distillation from foliage and terminal branchlets of Melaleuca alternifolia.
Tea tree grows in both New South Wales and Northern Queensland, almost entirely in modern day plantations. Some wild harvesting still occurs but this only contributes a small amount of the 650+ MT that Australia produces annually.
The industry is well regulated and as the original producer of tea tree, Australia standards are highly regarded as the best quality. The harvest period starts in May and lasts until November.
From seed to harvest usually takes around 12-15 months and trees will grow to around 2 metres high. The tree is then cut from just above the ground and the leaves are steam distilled in a process that takes around 1.5-2.0 hours per batch of around 250 kilos. Tea tree will regenerate quickly and over the next 2-3 years will yield higher levels of oil each year and establish a stronger root network ensuring it becomes more resilient to adverse weather conditions. Some more mature trees can yield higher levels of 1,8-cineole, which is undesirable so re-planting can occur every 6-7 years however the tree itself could live over 25 years.
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The reserves of tea tree oil are totally depleted and there are no stocks. The weather has been unyielding with a harsh drought affecting much of the crop. The drought is the worst one recorded, and production has plummeted by 30% compared to a normal year. This year’s forecast puts the crop size at approximately 600 MT.
Several large plantations began their harvesting operations a tad early in the hopes of opening their stocks early in the oil market and thereby quoting higher prices. Production is set to begin by July and August, which gives the plants adequate time to recover from recent extremely hot temperatures shooting to 43°C.
GGN decided to withhold from an early harvest, which has turned out to pay rich dividends. Spurred on by isolated regular rainfall in the Tucki Tucki area, and the ground temperature remaining warm, the plantations recorded uncharacteristically good growth towards the end of the season. Now with the imminent winter bringing down the temperatures, the plants are preparing to hold over for winter by increasing oil storage in their leaves, and shutting down growth. This is an opportune time to harvest to ensure optimal returns and yield of oil. There is some talk in the market of offshore Chinese manufactured tea tree oil being brought back, and sold as the Australian grade tea tree oil.
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