Some of you may have heard the song “Cuckoobara sits on the old gum tree” and wondered what a gum tree is like. Actually it’s another name by which the Eucalyptus tree is known. The botanical name is Eucalyptus globules and it belongs to the myrtle family.
The name “Eucalyptus” comes from two Greek words that mean “Well covered”. It’s probably because of the tight-fitting cap that covers the flower until it is ready to bloom. Most Eucalyptus trees have long, slender, leathery, green leaves that turn edgewise to the sun. Different kinds have flowers in different colors. You find them in creamy white and yellow, and in shades of pink and red. There are nearly 500 kinds of Eucalyptus in all.
The trees originally belong to Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and nearby islands, though now you find them in all parts of the world. They grow plentifully in California, America, Europe, and Africa. In India you find beautiful eucalyptus forests in the Nilgiri region.
Many people grow them as “shade trees”. They are also planted for making up forests. The commonest varieties include ironbark, jarrah, karri, blue gum, red gum, salmon gum, and Sydney peppermint. They are also known as stringy bark trees. Next to the Douglas fir and the giant redwoods of America, the giant gum trees of Australia are the tallest trees in the world. Some of them grow to be more than 300 feet high.
The trees grow very fast. That is one of the reasons why people plant them far and wide.
The wood is used for timber and for making fires. They are planted along avenues as windbreaks. When planted as forests they stop the soil from being washed away too fast. People who live near swamps often plant Eucalyptus trees to create a proper forest. That’s because the trees drain the water from the soil and make it dry. It is also called the “Fever Tree” because people plant them in unhealthy, low-lying or swampy areas for the same reason. And because the tree is said to have antiseptic qualities.
Eucalyptus wood is tough and lasting. It is used for making wharves, poles and other constructions because it does not get spoiled by water or a damp ground.
You can polish the wood very well. So it is also used for making furniture and decorative things like screens and partitions. The pulp is used for making paper.
Some kinds of Eucalyptus are especially useful because you can extract oil from the leaves. Eucalyptus oil smells rather nice and is used in a lot of medicines, especially cough syrups and inhalers. Don’t you enjoy sucking eucalyptus lozenges when you have a cold?
But scientists have found that growing eucalyptus trees may not always be good for every place because they can make the soil too dry and also draw moisture from the air causing less rainfall. The fallen leaves of the eucalyptus trees make the soil acid so grass and other plants can no longer grow there. Sometimes they smother and replace other trees in the forest because they grow so fast. So people have to be careful when planting new eucalyptus trees and find out carefully if it is suitable for the place or not.
Image courtesy : anbg.gov.au