“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II. Scene II.
Translation: If you called a rose something else, it would still smell the same so why worry about what it’s called? Well, if you’re dealing with Eucalyptus (or any other species for that matter) it does make a difference! After all, the plant can’t talk in order to introduce itself…
(Scroll down for names)
How do you know what you are buying if it is listed under another name? Plants grow with such varying habits that the person planting the plant needs to be 100% sure of what they are letting themselves in for e.g. Eucalyputs gunnii will grow to 25m tall or more if left unpruned, whilst Eucalyptus gunnii ‘France Bleu’ is a very new variety that is anticipated to reach just 3 to 5m tall and has a very different (rectangular!) leaf shape to the original gunnii. We’re also not sure, as a result of the clone selection process, that the new variety will be as hardy as the original.
Plants within the same species can also thrive or struggle in certain growing environments depending on the specific sub-species or variety of the individual. For example, we have a handful of Eucalyptus that will survive on chalky soil where others will fail, and know which Eucalyptus will die in wet soils as opposed to thriving in them. It all goes back to right plant, right place.
Something called ‘plant breeders rights’ means that if a breeder registers a newly selected or discovered plant, anyone who wants to subsequently grow this plant as a commercial crop pays the plant breeders fee. It’s the copyrighting of the plant world. An example of this is our Eucalyptus gunnii ‘Azura’, from which a portion of our profit gets passed on to the plant breeder. Cheeky growers try to get around this issue by marketing their crop for sale under another name. There are a few examples of this that we think we’ve discovered over the years, but we don’t want to get anyone in trouble..
And to make things even more fun, those responsible for classifying plants sometimes change the official botanical name that an individual plant is listed under, so it’s always a good idea to check a plant name if you’ve not heard of it before.
Here are some common Eucalyptus nomenclature that we get asked about:
Eucalyptus ‘Little Boy Blue’ – Who now? You most likely mean Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’. Even worse, this species is sometimes listed as E. gunnii ‘Little Boy Blue’ – this is very incorrect! The original ‘Baby Blue’ was a clonal selection, discovered by a breeder farming E. pulverulenta in California during the 1800’s, that eventually found it’s way over to Italy. We think at this point a translation error may have changed it’s name from the generic ‘baby’ to a gendered ‘little boy’ as the Italian language that has male and female genders, like French. Compare the leaf types and branch structure, and you can see that they are in fact all the same!
However, although it’s technically incorrect, parvi/parvifolia is still used as the commercial name for this species of Eucalyptus when it is sold as cut foliage. It is popular with flower farmers and florists, and they’re lovely people so we let them get away with it.
Eucalyptus populus – Also sometimes called ‘Seeded’; see below. This species doesn’t exist, botanically speaking. We’re not 100% sure why it’s called populus. Our theory is maybe it’s a commercial name that stems from Latin; ‘populus’ translates to ‘people’, a lot of foliage is grown in Italy (a language with roots in Latin), and botanical names are often in Latin so maybe as ‘Eucalyptus populus’ is sold to Florists for flower arranging this is the “Eucalyptus for the People”. Or maybe we’re being kind and it’s someone avoiding plant breeders rights (see above).
Searching for a name that’s been lost in the mists of time, you could take a look at Eucalyptus populnea, or E. tereticornis (once named populifolia) or E. platyphylla (a.k.a. poplar gum), as all have similar juvenile leaf shapes. Although, they don’t seem to have the same mass of flower buds that populus exhibits.
We think it is a corruption by the horticultural trade of Eucalyptus polyanthemos – known for its ‘berries’ – which are in fact flower buds. Its probably not hardy enough to grow in the UK, so for a gardener/florist grower in the UK the nearest equivalent leaf shape is E. camphora subsp humeana, or E. archeri that can grow a useful crop of flower buds.
Seeded Eucalyptus – All sorts of wrong going on here! This is not a Eucalyptus species; see above. What you’re actually looking at are the flower buds on branches that are 2+ years old. They’re unusual because commercially grown cut Eucalyptus foliage is usually harvested after 8-14 months so they don’t have enough time to produce flower buds – sometimes called ‘berries’ by wholesalers – and the specie(s) used for commercial harvest was most likely selected for it’s prolific flower bud production ability.
Eucalyptus seeds are incredibly fine; somewhere between a speck of dust and a breadcrumb. The seedpods are usually large, chunky and brown, found on older wood, and are called ‘gumnuts’ (which is also what we call our staff, other Euca-philes, and would be the name of our band if we didn’t spend so much time growing trees…).
The Ghost Gum – ‘Gum’ is the common name for a Eucalyptus tree so we understand the confusion. The Ghost Gum is called so because of its bright white, smooth bark, but it is actually a Corymbia, not a Eucalyptus, and is probably not hardy in this country. If you’d like a white-stemmed gum tree, try E. urnigera or Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. debeuzevillei (it’s a mouthfull, we call them Debbies for short). Corymbia and Eucalyptus look incredibly similar as they are both part of the Eucalypteae Tribe, which is part of the Myrtaceae Family, which is part of the Plantae Kingdom … if you remember how you had to name plants and animals for your GCSE biology. Unsure? Here’s good old Wikipedia.
Written by Charlie, one of the Gumnuts