A friend who’s into flowers and such posted this bit on eucalyptus and SoCal. I knew it wasn’t native but I didn’t know how much of an impact it had on the settlement and farming of the area. I have mixed feelings on the trees themselves, because they’re not native to CA (like palm trees). My undergrad was planted with large groves of them and I remember them being very messy trees that had a pleasant smell in the summer. But I also am keenly aware of how flammable they are. Every year we had warnings about smoking and starting fires around the trees. Feel free to share your stories about invasive species in your part of the world! As usual, fun quotes are below.
Native to Australia, eucalypts feature leathery leaves and flowers whose petals fuse together to form a cap. In fact, the name “eucalyptus” refers to this bud, deriving from Greek words meaning “well-covered.” Botanists recognize more than 500 distinct species, but Southern California is best acquainted with one: eucalyptus globulus, also known as the blue gum.Eucalyptus globulus, indigenous to Tasmania and southeastern Australia, is instantly recognizable by its minty scent, shimmering leaves, and peeling bark.
Historical accounts vary, but according to tradition the first blue gums arrived in Southern California in 1865, when fur trapper-turned-farmer William Wolfskill planted five specimens outside his house — the Hugo Reid Adobe — on Rancho Santa Anita. An agricultural experimenter who made a fortune growing oranges, walnuts, and wine grapes, Wolfskill must have recognized the eucalyptus’ potential to upset the commercial timber market; although conifers grew in the mountains, the lowlands of Southern California were mostly treeless plains, broken by isolated copses of live oak and sycamore. The fast-growing eucalyptus could provide a large, local supply of timber in short order.
But it was tobacco heir Abbot Kinney who turned a regional fad into a landscape-altering phenomenon. Better known today as the developer of Venice, Kinney served as state forester from 1886 to 1888 and used the position to promote the eucalyptus, distributing free seeds across the state. In 1887, he established a forestry station in Rustic Canyon, near Santa Monica, where he planted numerous species of eucalypti, and in 1895 published a 300-page book about the tree.
Over the next six years, optimistic farmers planted millions of individual blue gums throughout California; a few months in 1909 alone saw the creation of more than 23,000 acres of new eucalyptus groves. Some farmers even replaced productive fields with eucalyptus stands, and the Los Angeles Board of Water Commissioners mooted a proposal to plant 25 million trees along the Owens River Aqueduct, then under construction.
The bubble soon burst, however, when a 1913 U.S. Department of Agriculture report confirmed what others had long known: that eucalyptus wood warped, cracked, and twisted as it dried. Investors were ruined, and eucalyptus groves reverted to farmland as steel, concrete, and other artificial materials made up for the hardwood shortage.