Intense heat, brutal winds and a spark is all that is needed to start a fire and the whole place will go up in flames,” he says. In addition to these new plantations, there are other divisive issues surrounding the eucalyptus today. They can in some cases alter nutrient levels in the soils (such as nitrogen levels) such that the entire local environment becomes changed and undesirable for native plants and animals. When we think of organisms being introduced to new lands and wreaking havoc upon the natives, animals more readily come to mind than plants do. It’s especially poisonous to cats.) These once exotic trees have become a potent fuel in this new era of megafires. Promoters touted the trees as not only aesthetically pleasing, but as capable of satisfying many practical needs. They’re still used in medical products (including antiseptics, decongestants, and stimulants), foods (such as cough drops and sweets), perfumes, toothpastes, industrial solvents, menthol cigarettes, and more. Copyright ©2020 Santa Barbara Independent, Inc. Reproduction of material from any Independent.com pages without written permission is strictly prohibited. Fire is also a problem. California hillsides were ablaze last year and it looks like a similar disaster may occur again this season. Wildfires burn rapidly under them and through the tree crowns. The bark strips dropped by the blue gums are extremely flammable, which can lead to intense fires, such as the Oakland Firestorm of 1991. Cooper became a vocal advocate for the eucalyptus, emphasizing its unique, aesthetically pleasing appearance, as well as its useful qualities. Many entrepreneurs rushed to capitalize on the situation. Random Fact: Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia and were brought and planted in California during the gold rush. In the article, Stefan examines the author of the post’s suggestion that Australian eucalypts – introduced to the area, not native – are to blame for the wildfires as the oils they secrete are highly flammable. Rather, a detailed and thoroughly researched piece by Nathan Masters for KCET, argues that eucalypts were first introduced by a single farmer, William Wolfskill, back in 1865. The Santa Ana winds that have kicked up have created a perfect storm of flammable vegetation.”. If you believe an Independent.com user or any material appearing on Independent.com is copyrighted material used without proper permission, please click here. Not only was eucalyptus a fascinating novelty, but the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s and early 1850s created high demand for wood for constructing buildings and for fuel. While the eucalyptus is certainly not as devastating to its new home as some non-native plants and animals have been, its story should still serve as a cautionary tale: Think before you plant. They are also found in Australia, of which many are native. But experts say the claims just don’t stack up. After selling his land, another farmer, Ellwood Cooper, renowned for his guidebook Forest Culture and Eucalyptus Trees, planted a 200-acre eucalyptus grove near Santa Barbara in 1872, and more widespread cultivation of the tree across south California began. Send any ideas for future columns to her at science@independent.com. For more on eucalyptus and non-native plants, see Robin W. Doughty’s book The Eucalyptus: A Natural and Commercial History of the Gum Tree, Carla C. Bossard, John M. Randall, and Marc C. Hoshovsky’s book on Invasive Plants of California’s Wildlands, California Invasive Plant Council’s website on Invasive Plant Inventory, the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources’ website on Invasive Plants, California’s Department of Fish and Game website on Invasive Species Program, a previous Santa Barbara Independent article on Ellwood Cooper and other Santa Barbara Pioneer Horticulturists, and Wikipedia’s article on Eucalyptus. Additionally, in eucalyptus groves outside of their native homes, ecosystem development faces many challenges. By the early 1900s, the get-rich mindset had caused many aspiring forest tycoons to plant countless acres of eucalyptus in hopes of selling the timber for a tidy profit. Europeans started to settle in California in the late 1700s, and soon many non-native plant species made their way to California as well. Twenty-five jobs are on offer at Australia’s four Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations for the 2021/22 season. Because this was a unique event in California, with which there was little experience, the initial assumption was that … Eucalyptus oil catches fire very easily, and bush fires can travel quickly through the oil-rich air of the tree crowns. Eucalyptus trees have lovers and haters in California. While less than 10 percent of these non-native plants are considered to be a “serious threat” to native organisms, every new plant affects its environment in ways both subtle and profound. When the oils in the tree heat up, the plant releases flammable gas, which ignites into a fireball. The blue gum variety were introduced around the 1850s as ornamental … A Decrease font size. What’s the damage? Havens closed shop. Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window), Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window), https://www.independent.com/2011/01/15/how-eucalyptus-came-california/, explosive population increases among garden snails in California, Poodle Bicycles Around an Almost Deserted Santa Barbara, Alejandro R. Romano, 1969-2020; Mark Lawler, 1955-2020; Teresita Bolisay, 1956 -2020; and Ingrid Cypert, 1968-2020. By 1950, eucalyptus trees were primarily grown in California as ornamentals or windbreaks. In the early 1800s, wealthy merchants and aristocrats were excited about rare or “exotic” plants and, together with people in the plant business, made cultivating eucalyptus trees popular. By the early 1800s, there were 16 non-native plant species, but this jumped to about 134 species by 1860. [Check out the top 9 places to find free firewood here, Free Firewood] Splitting Eucalyptus Wood Highly flammable eucalypt oils Chris added that while the oils secreted by eucalyptus trees are highly flammable, one particular study from 2012, published in the International Journal of Forestry Research , showed little difference in fire risk between pines and Eucalyptus in southern USA. Home Topics Science & Environment Are Australian eucalypts to blame for California’s wildfires? The battle over California's eucalyptus trees. It’s been suggested that the introduction of Australian eucalyptus trees may be to blame for the rapid spread of the Southern California wildfires. Biology Bytes author Teisha Rowland is a science writer, blogger at All Things Stem Cell, and graduate student in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at UCSB, where she studies stem cells. So now, more than a century later, eucalypts grow tall throughout a lot of California, waiting for the next fire. THIS QUESTION is again being raised as fires rage across Southern California for another year. The K’gari-Fraser Island bushfire has been catastrophic. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription. It has been estimated that other than the 3,000+ homes that burned in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire in California, … One of the most distinctive features of eucalypts is their bark. With some aromatic species majestically soaring over 300 feet tall, as a hardwood tree their height is second only to California’s coastal sequoias. This December is your chance to witness one of the best meteor showers of 2020 – the Geminids. This is because epicormic buds of Eucalyptus trees are more protected than on other tree species because they are set much deeper at maximum bark thickness (Burrows 2002). The trees had failed to live up the many premature claims and hopes. “The original claim that it takes 100 years to mature is complete nonsense – one of the main reasons why Eucalyptus plantations are so lucrative is because they grow so damn fast,” he says. A Increase font size. Are Australian eucalypts to blame for California’s wildfires? Not only could eucalyptus grow quickly in many conditions, but, in several species, when the tree’s cut down even to the roots new stems sprout back up. GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Tasmanian bluegum is an introduced, deciduous tree that generally grows from 98 to 180 feet (30-55 m) tall [3,10].Some bluegums have attained heights of 260 feet (80 m) in California [].Most height growth of Tasmanian bluegum occurs within the first 5 to 10 years; 60 to 70 percent of total height growth is achieved by about age 10. View from the city of Orange of the wild brush fire called the Canyon Fire near Corona, California (2017). The number has been increasing ever since; today, there are over 1,000 non-native plant species living in California (and nearly 5,000 native species). Keep up to date with our stylish calendars and diaries. Get great photography, travel tips and exclusive deals delivered to your inbox. ARTICLE. Most eucalyptus tree problems occur when the ground is wet. Their adaptability allows them to grow where other plants can’t, such as lands that have been ruined by mining or poor agricultural practices. This weekend there is an increased concern of fire danger in the East Bay hills and as if that wasn’t enough, scientists are examining eucalyptus trees to find out why acres of them are dying. Throughout the state’s lowlands, eucalyptus trees achieved the stature of millennial sequoias in merely one century. Ellwood Cooper’s role in spreading eucalyptus: Ellwood Cooper, educator, entrepreneur, and one of the key individuals who helped the eucalyptus take off in California, is a local legend here in Santa Barbara. Deforestation had become a serious concern, so much so that the California Tree Culture Act of 1868 was created to encourage people to plant more trees, particularly along roads. Eucalyptus trees are common in California and the warmer states of the United States. Australian roots: In 1770, eucalyptus specimens made their way to Europe for the first time. After seeing eucalyptus in the San Francisco area, Cooper settled down in Santa Barbara in 1870. But the often over-looked plant invaders have significantly sculpted the California landscape to become what we know it to be today. Eucalyptus has a fresh, distinctive scent that many enjoy in an open fire. Some trees … Of the hundreds of species, only a few call California home. Eucalyptus recently: Today, millions of acres globally are covered by eucalyptus, as forests, shade trees, anchors along canals, ornamentals, windbreaks, or plantations. The author of the Reddit post argued that Australians “duped” Californians into buying Eucalypt seeds back in 1920, which they then planted across thousands of acres. By 1950, eucalyptus trees were primarily grown in California as ornamentals or windbreaks. Many species of eucalyptus both tolerate fire, hiding from the flames behind thick bark, and depend on it to open their seed pods. He even wrote the first book in the U.S. on the trees. The ability to survive and re-sprout depends on tree height, scorch and char heights, but also tree species, age, size (height) and the severity of the fire. The 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm which destroyed almost 3,000 homes and killed 25 people was partly fueled by large numbers of eucalyptus in the area close to the houses. 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