Well, as far as we can tell it is not actually real.
We get quite a few emails from flower farmers asking whether we sell ‘Eucalyptus populus’. We have quite a wide range of eucalyptus species here (around 70!) but we hadn’t heard of anything called ‘populus’ (the Latin name for trees in the poplar (aspen) genus). This sparked our interest, and led to this blog post.
The first warning sign is that if you search for ‘Eucalyptus populus’ on Google, the only results are for companies and individuals selling it. Nothing from Wikipedia, the RHS, or any other reference website. There are also no photographs of planted ‘Eucalyptus populus’ trees. Wikipedia obviously isn’t infallible, so we then turned to EUCLID which is the most comprehensive resource for the eucalyptus genus on the internet. ‘Populus’ produces no results, which is what leads us to believe that it isn’t a real species in the wild. If it is a cultivated hybrid of some sort like Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’, then it is well hidden!
The second issue is that the foliage you’ll see if you search for ‘Eucalyptus populus’ is varied, even by eucalyptus standards. Some leaves are oval, others cordate, yet others tending towards lanceolate. The colours are highly varied as well, not including those that have been preserved or dyed. Many eucalyptus will change their foliage as they grow, but not to this extent.
So then what is it?
I suspect that ‘Eucalyptus populus’ is a marketing term that encompasses various species of eucalyptus that are grown for cut foliage in Europe and then imported into the UK. The foliage that can be bought online resembles a few species, including Eucalyptus populnea. This may be part of the issue, either a translation error or a deliberate rebranding exercise. Perhaps some populnea foliage was imported in the past, and the European growers found that it was easier to group visually similar species together for sale and transport?
But what about the berries?
Now this did initially confuse me, because eucalyptus trees don’t produce berries! After looking into it, this appears to be the result of eucalyptus just being a bit unusual. The ‘berries’ that foliage is sometimes sold with are actually flower buds which still have the caps over the ends (operculum). Those caps then fall off and the tree flowers, prior to turning into the woody fruit capsules that are known as ‘gumnuts’. The flower buds of eucalyptus can look rather strange, so this is most likely to be another case of confusion!
What do we sell that would be a suitable replacement?
Eucalyptus populnea doesn’t appear to be hardy enough for growing in the UK, although it may be worth experimenting with. The two species that we sell which closely approximate it are Eucalyptus glaucescens, and Eucalyptus camphora. They both have oval and heart-shaped juvenile foliage, and glaucescens in particular is very vigorous. This can make it difficult to handle as an ornamental if you don’t have sufficient space, but it means that as a cut-foliage species it is superb. All of our eucalyptus trees will flower in the UK, and the aforementioned species are no exception. Glaucescens in particular is very prolific in flowering, and beloved by our bees!