TIRADE #238: EUCALYPTUS
Nearly a year ago we had the coldest winter in recorded history…. water pipes broke, ponds froze over, cars wouldn’t start. I recall looking out my window and noticing that the leaves of all the Eucalyptus trees were a different color; they were severely burned by the cold. I rejoiced, OK I admit, I am prejudiced; I hate blue gum eucalyptus trees. There’s nothing more depressing to me that a sprawling grove of those monstrous giants. I see them for what they are gigantic, obnoxious, invading weeds. They create ecological deserts wherever they grow. The leaves are full of oils and acids that poison the soil so that nothing can thrive under the trees except other eukes or other invasive weeds. Few insects can feed on the pungent leaves so there are few birds that frequent the branches. In a native oak woodland songbirds prosper and the air is alive with their sounds but in a eucalyptus forest it’s depressingly quiet, only the sounds of rustling leaves, creaking branches and dripping fog. In Australia and Tasmania where blue gums are native they are known as widow makers because of the propensity for large branches to fall without warning. Even though the tree itself is resistant to fire the accumulated litter under eucalyptus burns very hot. Ask the Oakland fire department about that.
To be fair there are a few (very few) redeeming features of the trees. Many of the monarch butterfly roosting sites are in eucalyptus groves. Hummingbirds like the flowers and honeybees make great eucalyptus honey. The leaves make pleasant smelling but ineffective flea collars. Occasionally red-tail hawks and great horned owls will the trees for nesting sites. I generally have the same opinion about eucalyptus trees as I do attorneys there are entirely too many in California and they tend to crap up the environment, however there are a few scattered good ones.
It is now clear that my rejoicing was premature. Except for some of the young trees they all survived the winter and are now doing fine. Some parks are attempting to restore native California vegetation. Right now on Angel Island non-native Monterey pines and eucalyptus trees are being removed; they will be replaced with natives oaks, bays and toyons. We should all encourage this policy.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.