What do you know about eucalyptus trees? Beyond knowing they’re native to Australia and koala bears love munching their leaves, that is.
When it comes to this magnificent genus of trees commonly called gum trees, there’s a lot to know. On the dull-ish end of the spectrum, we have facts about the word “eucalyptus”. It comes from a combination of Latin (eu meaning “from”) and Greek (kalyptos meaning “covered” and kalyptein meaning “to conceal”) used to describe the seed pod. Good to know but not the kind of info worth sharing at your next dinner party.
Thankfully, there’s more to this millennia-old tree.
Whether you’re a newbie or eucalyptus expert, read on! You could learn 7 lesser known and somewhat remarkable facts about eucalyptus trees.
1. Eucalyptus Flowers Have No Petals
From a distance, the flowers on most species of eucalyptus trees look like fluffy bursts of color. Kind of like a dandelion flower gone to seed.
Get closer and you’ll see why. These breathtaking blossoms have no petals. The entire “bloom” consists of hundreds of stamens emerging from a central cone-like bud.
They come in a range of colors including white, bright red, vibrant orange, deep pink, and lime green.
The abundance of stamens translates to an abundance of pollen. And, eucalyptus trees can use as much pollen as possible. They have few natural pollinators because of high concentrations of cineole. (See #3 on this list for more about that). Most often, eucalyptus trees count on the multitude of stamens for self-pollination.
2. Square Stems and Uncommon Leaf Formations
Small branches of eucalyptus trees and shrubs are popular in flower arrangements. Why? In part because of their sturdiness and the visual appeal of their leaf formation.
While most trees have round stems, eucalyptus stems are closer to square. The natural advantage of this shape is unclear but doesn’t detract from its beauty.
What also makes the stems and branches of eucalyptus trees compelling is the way the leaves grow. They grow in pairs on opposite sides of the stem. But the neighboring pairs of leaves are at right angles to each other. So a pattern of A-C, B-D, A-C, B-D, etc. emerges where A, B, C, and D are the four sides of the stem.
There are other plants with this kind of leaf formation but it isn’t common.
3. Cineole: The Secret Ingredient
Eucalyptus essential oil has been used in Indigenous Australian medicine as an antibacterial and anti-fungal agent for centuries. In India’s Ayurvedic medicine, it’s often used in the treatment of respiratory ailments. In 17th century England, it was used to disinfect hospitals.
Why? Because eucalyptus leaves and bark contain high concentrations of cineole.
Cineole is a colorless, liquid organic compound. It’s sometimes also called eucalyptol because there’s so much of it in eucalyptus trees and shrubs. The fragrance of eucalyptus is primarily that of cineole.
We don’t want to sound like a high school chemistry tutorial. So, let’s simply say that cineole is the eucalyptus’ secret weapon against predators.
Only the koala bear, ring-tail possum, and a few insects can eat eucalyptus leaves and bark. No other creature, including humans, can withstand the high levels of cineole. In fact, in high concentrations, it’s toxic. That’s why it makes an effective and natural insect repellent.
Clinical research has proven the anti-bacterial, antiseptic, and anti-fungal properties of cineole. Using eucalyptus essential oil in topical wound treatment, skin care, and makes sense.
4. Eucalyptus Trees Can Help Prevent Malaria
It’s no secret that eucalyptus trees love water. They thrive in marshy and flooded areas.
That’s why they’re sometimes planted in areas with high malaria rates.
Malaria, a disease found on every continent but Antarctica (another factoid to impress your dinner companions), relies on a specific kind of mosquito for its survival. The malaria parasite lives in female mosquitoes who bite humans. During the bite, the malaria parasite is transferred to the human.
And what do we know about mosquitoes? They love standing water. From swamps to puddles in the backyard, mosquitoes need stagnant water to breed.
In areas of the world with high populations of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, eucalyptus trees are sometimes planted. Not only do they reduce the amount of stagnant water, their secret weapon, cineole, helps reduce mosquito populations.
5. Eucalyptus Trees Can Help Manage Wastewater Issues
Much like using eucalyptus trees to help manage malaria, there’s ongoing exploration into using this remarkable tree to reduce wastewater issues.
In several parts of the world, wastewater carrying heavy metals, bacteria, and other toxins into the groundwater is a concern for agriculture. In response, environmental engineers and agri-forestry professionals plant eucalyptus trees in strategic locations. There’s a wealth of evidence that the eucalyptus absorbs and filters many elements we don’t want in the water used on crops.
While there’s still more research needed to know the right balance of eucalyptus trees to agricultural land, the outlook is promising. And another remarkable fact about the gum tree.
6. Eucalyptus Wood Makes the Best Didgeridoos
Didgeridoos are a long, trumpet-like instrument with a deep history among the Indigenous people of Australia. Traditionally, it’s played during ceremonial dancing and singing. Today, it’s also played for recreation.
But no matter why it’s played, many who know about these things contend that the best didgeridoos are made from eucalyptus wood.
Traditional production involves finding a tree trunk or major branch that’s been hollowed out by termites. The trunk or limb is then cut down, cleaned inside and stripped of its bark. The hardness of eucalyptus wood helps create pleasing acoustics when played.
7. Eucalyptus Grows Super Fast
One of the reasons is an environment-friendly choice is the rate at which the trees grow. Many varieties reach early maturity ten years after planting.
That’s super fast, compared to other hardwoods, which can take 18-25 years to reach early maturity. Provided they have enough water and are in the right climate, eucalyptus trees are a renewable resource. That’s a remarkable and important fact for the sustainability of the flooring industry — and consumers who want to make better choices for the environment.
Whether you use eucalyptus trees for essential oils, didgeridoos, or flooring, you get value. And in ten years, someone else can also enjoy the benefits of another eucalyptus tree.
So, how many of these 7 facts about eucalyptus trees did you know? Do you use eucalyptus or have it in your home? Let us know in the comments!