EUCALYPTS

Human beings are impatient creatures: we lack the patience to wait. There is an English proverb that reminds us that if you want to be happy for a year, plant a garden; if you want to be happy for life, plant a tree.  ‘Happy for life’ is a long time – and one has to wait for several years before you can truly enjoy the beauty / the shade / the fruit of the saplings you have planted – and even longer if you started the process from seed. It has taken some trees thirty years to grow into the shade trees we imagined when this garden first became ours – we only planted indigenous trees, and they have taken their time. An African proverb informs us that the tree breaks that takes all the force of the wind, and that brings me to the Eucalypts and the lack of patience we practice.

Eucalypts – often called gum trees here – are fast growing and have been planted in this country since the 1800s. They proved to be a quick source of timber – particularly for the mining and paper industries – but have also been planted as shade trees. I imagine these ones, growing next to the ruins of a farm house in the Free State, may have performed that function.

Their usefulness extends to providing nectar and pollen for bees, as well as providing wind breaks on farms. You would be surprised to see the number of short straight lines of Eucalypts and pines growing on farms throughout South Africa –a windbreak is needed now so plant these imports and get one growing quickly! These trees are a remnant from a windbreak planted out in the country decades ago.

The trees in this photograph grow not far from our home and were possibly meant to form a windbreak for the first houses to be built on the side of this hill.

Another example of a possible windbreak are these gigantic trees growing along the edge of our botanical gardens.

As is the nature of trees, there are many escapees from the timber plantations and farms and the downside of this is that these trees consume more water than indigenous species do – not a good attribute in a country that is short of water even in the best of rainy seasons. We used to have a stand of Eucalypts growing on our farm. Once they had been removed, it was amazing to see how quickly the little dam filled up!

There is no denying that apart from being useful – and invasive – Eucalypts can be beautiful too. The bark of some of them peels away in papery slices to reveal a lighter under bark, creating an attractive contrast of colours.

Traffic was held up recently when a Eucalypt fell across a road on the outskirts of town during a particularly windy period – not my own photograph.

A similar row of trees used to line the entrance to our town on the way in from Bedford. These were removed many years ago and some indigenous trees planted in their wake (since either chomped by the Urban Herd or died through lack of water) and this is all that is left of what had been tall, stately trees that shielded drivers from the piercing sunlight in the late afternoons.

31 thoughts on “EUCALYPTS

    • I have featured the patterns of Eucalypt bark before: all different and rather colourful. The major problem with them in this country is their consumption of water. A group of them were removed from the dam over the road, which then filled up and retained water until this present drought finally sucked it all dry.

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  1. The bark is just beautiful. Too bad you don’t have koalas! Seriously, though, my heart breaks when I see a venerable tree taken down. The trees around us are mostly all young, and one of my greatest pleasures over the last seven years has been watching them grow and thrive. We should all be thanking our trees.

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    • Trees are very valuable in all environments for a variety of reasons. Very sadly, we had to have a large exotic tree removed from next to our house a few years ago because it was beginning to lift the tiles and had become a fire hazard in the period of drought we were experiencing at the time. I found myself apologising to the tree throughout the removal operation.

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  2. This reads like a cautionary tale, Anne. Attractive trees, but their water needs are their downfall. Our desert Southwest is facing similar problems and the invasive trees are being culled from the wild, particularly along the few rivers.

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    • It has turned out to be a cautionary tale. At one time we had a very active ‘Working for Water’ organisation in this country that got rid of a lot of these trees (along with wattle and Port Jackson) especially along rivers and in the wetland areas, with very positive results. Unfortunately, there has been no follow up to the initial country-wide action to get rid of the inevitable seedlings.

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  3. Apart from their extreme “thirst”, you’ll also mostly find that the ground beneath the bluegums are devoid of other greenery – perhaps due to shed seeds, leaves, and bark accumulating or through them denuding the soil of nutrients. Often see the same with wattle and pine too, both also exotic. I am sure in their native lands there’s other plants that grow in association with them quite happily, but here I am thankful that there seems to be an ever growing (pardon the pun) appreciation for our indigenous trees; the joys they bring being featured regularly here on your blog, Anne.

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    • Thank you Dries, I should have mentioned the fact that nothing grows under them. It is pleasing, for example, to note that indigenous trees have been planted all around the campsite at Royal Natal National Park and will eventually replace the enormous pine trees planted there before people were wiser.

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  4. It is good the eucalyptus trees are being “phased out” but nevertheless in some areas they do play an important role as nesting trees for crowned eagles and other large birds – due to the absence of other trees. But as you say, planting indigenous trees is the way to go, and in time they will be able to provide nesting sites for the eagles and and food and shelter for many other species too. Thanks for an interesting post.

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    • You are right to point this out, Carol. I read somewhere that in places where such nesting sites have been identified the trees are left. What is far more important is the removal of trees planted near water courses – this has made a noticeable difference to streams and little dams around here.

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  5. This tree was planted heavily in California also. They are very controversial at this point, but for myself, I’m currently glad that my friend constantly has downed limbs to cut up and he gives me some for kindling for my wood stove. There are many in my own neighborhood, too, along the creeks. I hope to write a post about them “sometime.” I really like reading and seeing the history of them in your country!

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    • Thank you for this information Gretchen. These trees do make good firewood. It is the trees along the creeks that are a problem because they suck up so much water – especially in places like here that tend to have little rain throughout the year.

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