Gjohn Murtagh

Agricultural Water Management, Goonellabah, NSW, Australia

INTRODUCTION

The economic viability of the production of tea tree oil is heavily dependent on the oil yield from a plantation (Reilly 1991). Whilst other factors such as operating costs and the price of oil also affect profitability, the oil yield can vary considerably making it a key variable in any analysis of plantation profitability.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil that consists of a complex mixture of secondary plant products. The synthesis and accumulation of such products is typically complex and can be endogenously controlled, dependent on development processes that are related to cell differentiation, and sometimes regulated by exogenous factors including light, temperature and wounding (Wiermann 1981). This chapter explores the range of factors that appear to affect the production of tea tree oil, and indicates similarities and differences to other essential oil crops. With tea tree, the major components of oil yield are the oil concentration in leaves and the leaf yield. Both are affected, but in different ways, by a number of factors including the environment, plantation management and genetics (Murtagh 1991).

Most tea tree oil that is used in commerce is sourced from selected chemotypes of Melaleuca alternifolia (Murtagh 1998). Suitable oil can also be obtained from chemotypes of M. linariifolia (Williams 1995), M. dissitiflora (Brophy and Lassak 1983) and M. uncinata (Brophy and Lassak 1992), but as most experimental and commercial experience is with M. alternifolia the discussion will refer to this species unless indicated otherwise.

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