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Eucalyptus Myths and Legends

Eucalyptus is a profoundly misunderstood genus, with many associated myths, legends, and outright lies. In addition to producing a range of beautiful hardy eucalyptus species, here at Hardy Eucalyptus we are dedicated to countering misinformation, and educating both professionals and members of the public. Eucalyptus are some of the most beautiful, tough, and adaptable species on the planet and here we are going to address some of the myths you might have read, and questions you might have.

Myth 1:

"This eucalyptus will grow to 'X' height"

Despite their reputation as giant trees, the 700 or so species in the Eucalyptus genus exhibit a staggering variety of shapes and sizes. Eucalyptus regnans is the tallest flowering plant on earth (100 meters!) and Eucalyptus vernicosa is shorter than many of our native hedgerow shrubs at 1-4 meters. As a consumer, the important thing for you is to choose the right tree for your growing environment. Regnans isn't going to be suitable for a small urban garden, and vernicosa isn't going to make much of an impact in a parkland setting. Something that we see with alarming regularity on numerous websites is false information about tree heights. Gunnii (reaches 25-35 meters depending on age and growing environment) has been sold to unassuming customers as a species that will only reach 10 meters, and has even been recommended as a suitable candidate for growing indoors in a container (it isn't). When looking at a particular species, do check multiple sources to see if the advertised height is the right one. Heights can be highly variable based on the seed provenance and growing conditions, so be aware that a tree will grow to within a certain range of the typical height.

Image by David Clode

Myth 2:

"Eucalyptus repel mosquitos and spiders"

Maybe, but probably not.

Myth 3:

"Eucalyptus can be grown indoors"

This is a fairly complex subject. The short answer is that eucalyptus can be grown indoors, but it is challenging and you must have the right species, care, and growing environment. Several web resources suggest that it is simply a case of buying a gunnii and plopping it into a pot. DO NOT DO THIS! Any eucalyptus species grown indoors needs to be one of those that tolerates partial shade, and it must be a dwarf variety. Anything else is setting yourself up for heartbreak. We'll get around to writing a blog-post on the subject one day, in the meantime do get in touch and we will offer tailored advice on the subject.

Myth 4:

"Eucalyptus burst into flames"

Without getting into a lengthy discourse on what is likely to be a rather detailed blog post, you don't need to worry about your Eucalyptus neglecta arbitrarily bursting into flames on a hot day. Eucalyptus - like many species that evolved in arid climates - are well adapted to wildfires which are a natural ecological disturbance process. It is why they recover so well from damage, and why they grow so quickly. Being wildfire adapted is actually quite a good thing in ecosystems where wildfires occur, because it means that the forest recovers quickly. It becomes problematic when forests aren't managed properly, particularly when they aren't allowed to burn. This results in the accrual of combustible litter on the forest floor so that when a fire does manage to take hold, it is much worse. Fortunately for us, the UK is a rather soggy country and whilst we do experience wildfires (usually in spruce and pine plantations), they are rarely an issue.

That isn't to say that eucalyptus don't burn because they absolutely do. Much like pine trees, they contain oils that do appear to result in more intense fires. They do, however, take an unfair amount of blame for the recent wildfires. Firstly, if you look at the footage you will notice that the vast majority of trees that burn are pine which are similarly adapted to wildfires (not helped by the vast numbers of pine trees that have been killed by bark beetles which have experienced a population explosion because of, you guessed it, climate change). Secondly, eucalyptus aren't responsible for climate change, and they certainly aren't responsible for urban expansion into forests.

Myth 5:

"Eucalyptus are poisonous"

Nope, or at least not in a manner that is a concern. The allegedly poisonous properties of eucalyptus are quite widely reported across the internet, usually by websites with a suspicious lack of actual sources. We have undertaken our own research into the subject, and it appears to be the case that whilst eucalyptus oil can be toxic, the leaves and bark of actual trees are not significantly so (with the exception of one genuinely poisonous species that doesn't grow in the UK). Eucalyptus oil is highly concentrated, usually from species that won't grow in the UK such as E. citriodora. Here at Hardy Eucalyptus we have five dogs that hang out in the nursery without ill effects, not to mention the nursery team! We've not been able to find a single account of eucalyptus poisoning in scientific literature that wasn't the result of consuming concentrated oil extract. As a precaution we also asked our trusted family vets if we should be concerned about our dogs living with eucalyptus, and they assured us that there was no cause for concern. This does not mean that you should ever apply eucalyptus oil, or indeed any oil to your pets in any manner and we also don't recommend chewing on eucalyptus leaves or bark. The key thing is that based on the evidence that we have access to, we don't think that planting a eucalyptus in your garden poses any risk to your beloved pets.

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