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Master Gardener Journal  

L I V E   F R O M   A U S T R A L I A

My Special Eucalyptus

by Jeanette Irwin,
Master Gardener Intern

About ten years ago, a realtor friend invited me to come with her one morning to preview a house that was just going onto the market. As I enjoyed my realtor friend's company I said "yes," and I was anticipating a fun day with her.

The first thing I noticed about the newly listed house was the incredibly huge tree in the front woods. Two Harris Hawks flew out from the branches as we drove up, and began circling the canal that served as the north boundary to the property. The wooded area was too dense to walk through, but I remember stepping back to view the top part of this enormous tree and asking my realtor friend just what it was. She told me it was a "Eucalyptus" tree, and said it had probably been planted about 100 years ago when the house had been homesteaded. I walked around the tree, fascinated by the gray leaves and by its bark, which seemed to be coming off in huge pieces. Later on my husband and I bought the house--and "that" tree--and over the years the eucalyptus and I developed a special affinity for one another.

Eucalyptus is a large family of trees having over 600 species growing in its native Australian habitat. It is a tree that has established itself on almost every continent of the world, but it grows best in environmental conditions that are semi-tropical to semi-arid. Man has used the tree in many ways, such as for fuel and as a windbreak to protect buildings, crops, and animals. The oil has been used for centuries for both medicinal purposes and for its fragrance. The oil is one of the most powerful antiseptic oils in its class, and was used by the early aborigines, the Europeans, and others as a skin ointment because of its antiseptic and healing properties. The oil has also been used extensively in New South Wales in the mining industry to separate the metallic sulfides from ores. The Eucalyptus tree has been cultivated in temperate regions for the prevention of malarial fevers, and its remarkably enormous root system has been the main reason for the disappearance of mosquitoes in regions in Algeria and Sicily, where the trees have been planted in groves.

The trees grow quickly, and many species reach enormous heights. The largest one known is about 480 feet. The beginning leaves on new trees are broad without stalks. They are a glossy whitish-green as well as horizontal and opposite. As the tree gets older, leaves become sword-shaped and turn bluish-green in color. They also become more alternate and vertical.

"My" Eucalyptus shades me from the sun. It is home to many species of birds and insects, and it creates its own environment. The diameter of this ancient tree is slightly over 5 feet, and it has a circumference of almost 16 feet. This tree was planted on one of Arizona's earliest canal banks, and the wooded area where it grows is a natural habitat for all sorts of creatures. It's a special tree to me; I love its great size and appreciate its ability to shade me on sunny days.

Grieve, Mrs. M. Eucalyptus, A Modern Herbal

Santos, Robert L. 1997.
The Eucalyptus of California.
California State University, Stanislaus Librarian/Archivist Alley-Cass Publications. Denair, California.

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092