Eucalyptus, the non-native tree that does so much. Like kill people.

“We don’t have many native tall trees in Southern California"

“After the Miller incident, the City of La Mesa came in and removed every eucalyptus by the side of the road and replaced them with what appear to be carrot wood trees."
  • “After the Miller incident, the City of La Mesa came in and removed every eucalyptus by the side of the road and replaced them with what appear to be carrot wood trees."
  • Image by Davis McCardle/iStock/Thinkstock

They began arriving in California from the other side of the world during the latter part of the 19th Century — first a handful of them, then en masse, once the idea got around that they might prove useful in helping to build the railroads. Hardy, resilient, and fecund, they multiplied and spread till they became a significant component of the state’s predominantly immigrant culture. Admired for their grace, resourcefulness, utility, they were established in ever-growing permanent settlements. But not everyone was happy with them, and as time went on, an increasing groundswell of opinion held that they were too fecund, too resourceful, that they were greedy and unruly and incorrigible. And dangerous. Certain individuals were held responsible for violent deaths and summarily dispatched. Today, these immigrants are to be found in multitudes all over San Diego County. With increasing ire, their critics deride them as foreign, or at least non-native — a true charge, but one that comes from people who themselves arrived on the scene very late.

A problem lovely as a tree.

A problem lovely as a tree.

This controversial population is the state’s ubiquitous eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus (meaning “hidden”) is a genus of tree whose name derives from its flower buds, which are capped by a pulpy lid. Botanists have identified more than 500 species of eucalyptus worldwide, many of which are evergreen and some of which are among the tallest trees in the world. A mature Eucalyptus regnans, for instance, can reach 300 feet. The trees are ideal for drought-prone areas, since they make efficient use of whatever water is at hand; the seeds, bark, and leaves are rich in oil, used for cold remedies and disinfectants; and they are exploitable for lumber and firewood and grow rapidly. The young trees of one common species of eucalyptus grows 10 feet a year. While oaks take several human generations to reach adult size, eucalyptus seedlings will become a towering grove in just a few years.

In 1787, when a fleet of ships laden with English criminals and their keepers arrived in Australia’s Botany Bay for purposes of colonization, these newcomers were unprepared for the environment they found. Australian life had evolved for millions of years in isolation from the flora and fauna of the American, European, Asian, and African land masses. This was as true of the Australian gum, or eucalyptus tree, as it was of the kangaroo — both species for which no close cousins could be found on the shores of the West. Historian and art critic John Hughes, in his book on the colonization of Australia, The Fatal Shore, says that “it took at least two decades for colonial watercolorists to get the gum trees right, so that they did not look like English oaks or elms.”

Australia’s aborigines had lived with the eucalyptus as with the kangaroo and the wallaby and the dingo for millennia — indeed, eucalyptus composed (and today still composes) three-quarters of all Australian forest. The trees were indispensable to the natives; rickety canoes were fashioned from the bark; and during the frequent droughts, stores of life-sustaining water were squeezed from the roots. The English, unfamiliar with this lore, sometimes died of thirst on ground in which water-rich eucalyptus roots abounded.

If the Australian aborigines were never to extend beyond their homeland in a great migrant flood, the eucalyptus tree had a different fate in store. It was to be transplanted to regions all over the globe — from Ethiopia and Madagascar to Spain, Israel, Kenya, Brazil, and California. A United Nations study from the 1950s holds that eucalyptus is an exceedingly valuable tree for purposes of reforestation and industry and advocated its liberal use in developing areas.

In 1858, William C. Walker — owner of the Golden Gate Nursery in San Francisco — published a handwritten catalogue in which he advertised three species of eucalyptus for sale at five to ten dollars each. An article in the 1902 issue of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Bureau of Forestry Bulletin” provides additional history of the eucalyptus in California.

  • [Eucalyptus was] introduced into California in 1856 by Mr. Walker, of San Francisco, and in that year 14 species were planted. In 1860 Mr. Stephen Nolan, a pioneer nurseryman of Oakland, being greatly impressed with the rapid growth of these first trees, and also with their evident adaptability to the climate, commissioned a sea captain sailing for Australian ports to secure any Eucalyptus seed he could, at the same time furnishing money with which to make the purchase. A large supply of seed of several species…was received from this source and sown in 1861. Mr. Nolan continued to import seed in quantity for several years, distributing the seedlings widely through the state.

Walker, Nolan, and others ballyhooed the trees’ excellent ornamental qualities and outstanding rate of growth. During the next ten years, the trees were transplanted to Southern California, a region that was nothing more than coastal desert characterized by thousands of square miles of nearly treeless, brush-covered mesa and flatland. On August 11, 1872, the San Diego Daily World newspaper reported, under the headline “The Eucalyptus in San Diego”:

  • It is well known here that this tree, better known as the Australian gum, grows vigorously in this city, but few realize how vigorously it grows. Three years ago Mr. E.W. Morse planted a eucalyptus seed in his garden, and from that seed has sprung up a tree which is now more than eighteen inches in circumference two feet from the ground, and not less than twenty-five feet high! Several other trees in the garden, the same age, have done nearly as well. The wood of this tree is very hard and tough.

Only a few months later, on November 16, 1872, the Daily World reprinted an article from a publication called Science and Industry:

  • In this plant (eucalyptus] we may have a very important addition to our material resources, its great merit consists primarily in its adaptability to regions otherwise unsuitable for the growth of forest vegetation, in the extreme rapidity of its growth, and in the great value of the wood for economical purposes. When planted in marshy land it has a very decided effect in draining the soil and freeing it from a malarious tendency, while it is said to thrive where the annual rainfall is scarcely sufficient to keep ordinary trees in proper vigor. As is well known, trees having this rapid growth are generally soft and spongy and of comparatively little value for timber; but the gum is quite the reverse, the wood being very heavy and hard, resisting the action of air and water, as well as of most kinds of insects. In general properties it resembles the wood of the oak, and it is employed very largely for ship timber in Australia. The growing plants disseminate an aromatic fragrance, which is supposed to be conducive to health. This is due to the volatile essence of the oil, which can be readily collected and is known as eucalyptol. The leaves furnish two and one-half percent of their weight of this substance, which has come into use already as a solvent of resins…and it is warmly recommended for the manufacture of varnish.… [In] Spain and the south of France it has been made to replace quinine with decided advantage. Paper prepared from its bark answers for packing.

But in the San Diego area, the most immediate benefit of eucalyptus was as windbreaks — an important contribution to a terrain where ocean winds sweep over the brush-covered slopes to wreak serious havoc on homesteads, fruit orchards, and crops. The trees also made the area seem to be something that it was not. Jeff Levin, the current curator of plants at the Museum of Natural History, explains the popularity of eucalyptus this way: “We don’t have many native tall trees in Southern California, so the desire to have something that you could put in and would grow to a nice height and give people in this area the image that they were living somewhere else was very popular, and so quite a number of eucalyptus species were introduced and planted extensively as street trees and specialty trees in yards. For a very long time, the image people have had of Southern California is of eucalyptus trees and palm trees — almost a symbolic image.

“Essentially,” Levin goes on, “all the people who live in Southern California, and certainly those who have economic power and are going to be selecting what’s planted, are themselves imports from the Midwest or eastern United States, and the image of the habitat in which they want to live is one with green trees. They’ve made some concessions to the climate, in that some of the popular plants are ones that don’t require huge quantities of water; although palms require a fair amount, eucalyptus are quite drought-tolerant. I think it’s a reflection of the transplant characteristic of the region that not only do you have people who are not native to the area, for the most part, but they’ve brought in plants that aren’t native. Most of the horticultural plants that we use are non-native, so that the landscape is pretty much composed of this whole collection of things that we’ve put in, trying to reproduce something that we — because of our upbringing, I suppose — find more attractive than what normally would be here.”

Contrary to popular belief, eucalyptus was not introduced into California by the railroads. The idea that eucalyptus would be a good material for railroad ties was hatched in the first decade of the 1900s, and by this time, the trees were already widespread in large and small groups all over the state. In 1906, the Santa Fe Railroad Company purchased an 8000-acre tract of land known as San Dieguito Ranch, renamed it Rancho Santa Fe, and commenced the wholesale cultivation of eucalyptus for railroad ties. This was the beginning of what has come to be known as the county’s “Eucalyptus Boom.”

For example, a firm calling itself the Pratt Eucalyptus Company obtained 700 acres near Escondido in 1909 and began planting huge quantities of eucalyptus there. The company speculated that the trees could be used for lumber, medicine, and railroad ties, and if Australian animals were imported into the new forest — koala, wallaby, kangaroo, kookaburra, maybe even some dingoes — Escondido could be the proud host to an authentic little piece of Australia, a sure-fire tourist attraction. This plan came to nothing, and the commercial returns on the various applications of eucalyptus — cough syrup, aromatic woodwork for homes, croquet sets, and bowling balls — yielded little. In 1919 fire destroyed the company’s groves, but not before the City of Escondido had installed specimens in public places and private yards all over town.

In 1911 Max Watson, forester for Torrey Pines, undertook the transformation of the coastal region stretching from La Jolla to the bluffs at Torrey Pines by planting the area in eucalyptus. “There was not one tree growing in that area when I took the job,” he recalled in an interview in 1959. “There were thousands of acres of fine land going to waste. Eucalyptus at least offered it the possibility of producing something.”

He requisitioned a batch of prisoners from the city jail for labor and instructed them in how to plant eucalyptus trees. “We worked them hard for ten days,” he remembered, “fed them well, paid them five dollars, and then released them.”

A year later, Watson’s trees were seven feet tall; so he requisitioned more prisoners and planted thousands of additional trees. The result today is the familiar coastal sweep of eucalyptus groves in that area. Indeed, when the University of California decided to build a campus at La Jolla, Watson said of his stands of eucalyptus, “I don’t think the university would have agreed to locate a branch campus there if it hadn’t been for that.”

At the same time Watson was planting trees along the coast, the Santa Fe Company’s chief of timber and ties was learning a sad truth in Rancho Santa Fe. The chief had journeyed to Australia in 1906 to hand-select the eucalyptus species he believed most likely to yield the best ties, and thousands of acres of land had been planted with about 30 different types. But in 1915, when the company began harvesting trees and manufacturing the ties, they discovered that the eucalyptus wood warped, it was hard to cure, and it wouldn’t hold a railroad spike. The Santa Fe Company was left to contemplate its vast, useless spread of Australian gum trees. The company’s solution was to plant citrus groves side-by-side with the groves of eucalyptus. But by 1927, Rancho Santa Fe’s true destiny was realized, a residential covenant was promulgated, and houses began to be built on the site of the company’s failed experiment. The broad outlines of this tale might also apply to Scripps Ranch, where the Scripps family had embarked on a like scheme of eucalyptus cultivation that came to a like conclusion.

By the late 1920s, San Diego’s eucalyptus ghettos were well established: Rancho Santa Fe, Scripps Ranch, La Jolla/Torrey Pines, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo. All these areas had turned into dense collections of a tree that no Westerner had even heard of a scant century and a half earlier.

The Natural History Museum’s Jeff Levin points out that “most of those areas were predominantly covered with either chaparral or coastal sage scrub, both of which are brushy vegetations. Also, those areas are mostly up on mesa tops. Before we imported eucalyptus and other kinds of trees, most of the mesa tops at that elevation were brush-covered. Trees were restricted to the canyons and drainages where there was some water. All of those areas you mention, if they had oaks or sycamores, they would have been found only in the canyons.

“Now, botanists, ecologists, zoologists classify our brushy vegetation into two types. One is chaparral, which is composed of things like manzanita and wild lilac. In the lower areas closer to the coast, we have vegetation that’s called coastal sage scrub. In San Diego County, 70 percent of the coastal sage scrub has been removed. Furthermore, what remains tends to be in pretty small patches — 10 or 15 acres here and there, rather than there being the large expanses that some animals would need. The result of removing much of the coastal sage scrub is dramatic declines in some plant species, but also, because of the way it’s been partitioned, in some cases it’s affected some of the animal species more drastically. There are a number of endangered species of mammals and birds that only live in coastal sage scrub, and as a consequence of this removal and chopping up, those species have become endangered. There’s one mammal, a subspecies of the kit fox, that’s extinct, and it lived primarily in coastal sage scrub; at least part of the cause of its extinction was the elimination and partitioning of the coastal sage scrub habitat. The importation of eucalyptus in large numbers has certainly played a part in that. On the other hand, any type of introduced tree — it didn’t have to be eucalyptus — probably would have had the same effect.”

It’s the old American story; immigrants are welcomed because they are badly needed to perform some sort of work, but when their usefulness ends, so does the welcome. This is as true of eucalyptus as of any other imported group. Even while the genus was in its honeymoon period, during which the trees helped make the region attractive to settlers and developers, an occasional word of warning was sounded. As early as 1889, the San Diego Union reported items like this: “Giant eucalyptus trees are soon to be plentiful in Prospect Park, Coronado.… These trees have been secured from the Botanical Gardens of Australia. If the half is true which is told of them, we fear the view of the Pacific Ocean will be shut off from San Diego.” Similar complaints can be heard today.

In 1938 another Union story told how one eucalyptus tree in La Jolla was no longer considered by some to be a desirable neighbor. It was alleged that the tree’s roots had gotten tangled in the sewer system; also, a next-door neighbor claimed that it gave her yard too much shade and was constantly dropping debris on her lawn. “It’s the best tree of its kind in La Jolla,” countered John Morley, La Jolla park superintendent. “If we take it out, there will be a move to take out all similar trees, and the La Jolla Conservation Society never will stand for that.”

What finally became of this tree is unclear. It’s interesting to note, however, that one of the people quoted in the newspaper account speculated that the tree had already been a bone of contention for 15 years. If the La Jolla Conservation Society carried the day, it’s possible that the current residents of the neighborhood are still casting hexes in that tree’s direction.

In fact, the massive importation of eucalyptus trees has caused many problems for many people. The branches grow so fast that they cut off views; the roots crack sidewalks, curbs, and roads; they steal water from nearby plants, drop litter on the ground, and exude an oil that kills other plants, except for the flowering varieties. They are of little use as food or nesting trees for most birds (the wood is even too hard for woodpeckers to penetrate); and some people say the trees smell like cats’ urine. Today’s homeowners, as a result of our eucalyptus legacy, face large annual landscape-maintenance bills. And over the last few years, an even worse problem has arisen: Apparently, the trees are quite capable of killing people.

In 1983 a limb fell from a eucalyptus tree at the entrance to the San Diego Zoo and struck and killed four-year-old Freida Williams. And during the stormy winter of 1987, Dortha and Marion Miller were driving past Eucalyptus Park in La Mesa when a giant tree fell over, struck their car, and killed 80-year-old Mrs. Miller and put her 83-year-old husband in the hospital with serious injuries. People were shocked and outraged, of course, but none more so — or more tenaciously — than John Sevier, a tree-trimmer specializing in eucalyptus and now an expert witness in personal-injury lawsuits involving trees.

At the time of the Freida Williams tragedy and, later, when Mrs. Miller was killed, Sevier made clear in newspaper reports his allegations that the deaths could have been avoided if proper maintenance had been performed on the offending trees. Today, he still has a great deal to say on the subject and has even referred to Eucalyptus Park as “a death trap.”

The trees in Eucalyptus Park were planted around 1880, purportedly by one C.S. Crosby, and the stand was deeded to the county for park land on Christmas Day, 1929. It is now a handsome little area, and anyone strolling through, checking out the trees, would almost certainly think the county had taken care of any problems since the Miller accident. But John Sevier will disillusion you in about a minute, dragging you here and there, from one suspect tree to the next.

Sevier approaches one eucalyptus that sits next to a volleyball net strung between two poles and points to a place on the tree trunk where the stub of a broken limb pokes out. The missing limb once hung directly over the net. “When that branch was still intact,” he explains, “I took a photograph of it for the purpose of showing the county what a hazardous condition the tree was in. A couple months later I came out, and the limb was gone! And so was the pole! The limb had obviously broken off right over the pole.” He says it was just dumb luck that no one was injured.

He scrambles up a slope toward the playground to point out another tree. “We can walk right up to this tree and see that its trunk is not only deteriorated but it’s completely eaten up and infested by bugs,” he says. “And it’s right here by the playground, so the county can’t say, ‘Oh, that tree’s out in the south 40; nobody would be in that area, that’s no threat.’ ”

He next heads down toward Bancroft Road, which skirts the front of the park; alongside the road are numerous sawed-off eucalyptus tree trunks. “After the Miller incident,” he says, “the City of La Mesa came in — they control the right-of-way in front of the park — and removed every eucalyptus by the side of the road and replaced them with what appear to be carrot wood trees. Which is a smart move, because the carrot wood is easy to maintain.

“But look around the park itself,” he goes on, turning. “Look how the grounds are just littered with tree limbs. The county is either so dumb or so arrogant they don’t even get rid of the bodies — they don’t get rid of the evidence that trees are dropping branches.”

Finally Sevier alights on a picnic table bench and continues to spout an earful. “The county is only one of a number of public entities that, whether for budgetary reasons or priority reasons, just refuse to do what they know needs to be done for the safety of the public. We could go cruising all over San Diego, and I could show you places where eucalyptus trees have grown out over streets so that branches could break off and hit cars or pedestrians. The City of San Diego, Caltrans, the San Diego City Schools, the San Diego Zoo, which is leased from the City of San Diego — all these entities are negligent, in my opinion.”

Sevier, who has served as an expert witness in about 30 personal injury matters (the Miller case was finally settled out of court), takes pains to be very clear that he is not “anti-euk,” that he doesn’t advocate the wholesale extirpation of eucalyptus trees from the regional scene. What he is opposed to is something he terms “a mindless Mother Earth, let-it-grow-let-it-flow mentality that says, ‘Oh, we have these beautiful, big, green eucalyptus trees here, and some people like John Sevier say we should trim them heavily, but then they won’t look pretty anymore.’ That’s where the mindless part comes in. I’m all for trees and green things. I belong to the Sierra Club and all that stuff; but eucalyptus is the wrong species to take that attitude toward. With eucalyptus, uniquely, it’s ‘nice and big and healthy’ that’s the culprit. Eucalyptus rapidly outgrows its own strength, so you’re left with a tree that has long branches and a brittle personality. If you don’t keep it heavily trimmed, you’re asking for trouble.”

The Freida Williams case of 1983 still excites Sevier’s ire, and he can name a number of ways in which he believes the zoo to have been at fault — and in which it continues to be at fault. “Every year in San Diego — in December, January, and February — we get some rain and some high wind,” he says. “And every year when the trees go down, they act as though it’s the very first rainfall and the very first 25- to 30-mile-an-hour wind we’ve ever experienced in the county, when it happens predictably every single year, year after year. That’s what made me so disgusted with the zoo; they said, well, when the limb fell and hit Freida Williams, there was some wind that day.

“When it’s a matter of keeping visitors safe from the animals, it’s a different story. For instance, they put a moat around the tiger. They built the moat high enough so that if the tiger is hungry and he just wants to jump out and get some extra food, he won’t be able to do it. And they take into account combined influences. Maybe he’s hungry, maybe he’s in heat, and maybe lightning strikes and scares the hell out of him, all at the same time. So they build the moat high enough. Yet they trim the trees only for everyday beautiful conditions. Then when a limb does fall off, they say, ‘Oh, we never expected there to be a wind of 35 knots and rain too.’ It’s just bullshit.”

The San Diego Zoo began as a collection of exotic animals at the San Diego–Panama Exposition of 1915; when the fair was over, the collection’s mastermind, Harry Wegeforth, agitated for the development of the exhibit into a permanent world-class zoo. For this purpose, eucalyptus seemed perfect. Here was an exotic, interesting tree that you could plant in vast numbers and in almost no time get an extensive tree canopy in return for your trouble. At this time, before eucalyptus was as widespread as it is now, the exotic trees also helped give zoo visitors the illusion that they were someplace other than San Diego. Paradoxically, this key objective of “landscape immersion,” as it’s presently called, is one of the reasons why eucalyptus is no longer considered by zoo personnel to be an everlasting boon.

“I don’t think people fully appreciated the nature of eucalyptus when they were introduced,” says Charles Coburn, the zoo’s chief horticulturist. “Eucalyptus are extremely competitive for light and water, and the oils from their leaves tend to allow for a limited number of compatible plants. Another factor that has surfaced recently for people here at the zoo and in Balboa Park and in other county parks and botanical gardens is the fact that the summer limb-drop from mature eucalyptus, and the fact that they tend to fall over in storms, is more of a problem than people anticipated. In a public garden it’s a real problem, because you never know which limb is going to break. They can break from absolutely healthy trees and in a size that’s extremely dangerous. The predictive ability just isn’t there. The limb that killed Freida Williams fell from a healthy eucalyptus, one that had been periodically pruned and had no noticeable problem — no disease, no nothing. I took that eucalyptus out, and I’m going to take all the eucalyptus out in that [entrance] area.”

According to Coburn, the eucalyptus’s reign over the botanical scene at the zoo is gradually coming to an end. “Dr. Wegeforth had the idea of displaying animals in a parklike setting, and of course trees are an essential component of any park,” Coburn says. “But he had eucalyptus gaining dominance. We’re in the midst of transforming the zoo not only in terms of the animal collection and the way the collection is organized in bioclimatic zones, but we’re taking a different tack with the entire plant collection. The plant canopy is already evolving very dramatically; if you were able to see aerial photographs of the zoo over the last ten years you’d notice some real significant differences in the nature of that canopy. We have ten bioclimatic zones now, and for a long time eucalyptus was the dominant tree in all of those areas. In the Tiger River zone, for instance, we’ve taken out over 100 eucalyptus. They weren’t really the most desirable tree for that zone anyway; they aren’t really Asian tropical. We took out the eucalyptus, along with 20 feet of soil, put the soil back, and planted different trees altogether, among them figs and palm.

“One factor is that certainly many San Diegans and Southern Californians are used to seeing eucalyptus. People from the East or from other countries might be interested in them for a while, but one of the things we’re trying to do in landscape immersion is take people out of their everyday perceptions. And a more diverse and exotic tree population does exactly that.”

Only a few years ago, it appeared that the entire eucalyptus controversy might be settled by an act of God. The eucalyptus longhorn borer, a member of the beetle family, somehow found its way here from Australia and began making alarming inroads into the resident gum-tree population. The cry went up all over Southern California that the eucalyptus tree was doomed. No doubt the arrival of the longhorn borer caused certain factions to smile at the prospect of a eucalyptus-free Southern California.

The borer made its first known California appearance in a eucalyptus grove in El Toro, in Orange County, in 1984 and was worrying San Diego officials by 1986. Although the incidence of infestation was far worse in Riverside, Orange, and Ventura Counties, the beetle had been found in Balboa Park, Torrey Pines, and Oceanside. Indeed, the Oceanside grove had to be cut down, and at least one infected tree was removed from Balboa Park. Officials were sufficiently concerned that they sent two experts to Australia to locate insects that prey on the borer. A preliminary finding was that the eucalyptus catastrophe might be averted if certain types of Australian wasps and bees were imported and released across the San Diego countryside. But finally, the once-urgent vision of the loss of ail the county’s eucalyptus came to be seen as a long-haul proposition, and the sense of official alarm simply dissipated.

“There definitely have been losses,” Jeff Levin says of the longhorn borer phenomenon, “but we haven’t seen anything like the complete demise of eucalyptus. What we’ve had is more of a gradual decline. I think it’s certainly possible that we won’t see as many eucalyptus in the future, since it’s no longer a pest-free tree; people may choose to plant other things in new landscaping, although I haven’t seen much evidence of that as yet. The thing is, a eucalyptus tree that’s healthy and has adequate water is pretty well able to resist the infestation and produce a gum which, as the beetles try to bore in, is exuded and blocks off the tunnels and jams up the beetle’s mouth parts. A healthy tree will do that, but if the tree is stressed — not getting water, or overcrowded, or getting too much competition from other plants, or whatever — it’s not able to produce as much gum. As a consequence, the beetles are able to infest it. But the dire predictions we were hearing a couple of years ago are greatly overblown in that the time scale we’re talking about — not losing eucalyptus altogether but seeing fewer of them — is probably twenty to thirty years instead of five or ten, as the initial predictions were.”

Whether you’re talking with Charles Coburn, John Sevier, or Jeff Levin, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the San Diego area will be best served in the next few decades if the mass planting of eucalyptus is no longer regarded as the only way to deal with barren areas slated for development. All three emphasize that persons managing such development will be well advised to acquaint themselves with the downside of eucalyptus importation — with the fact that they’ll pay a price, in terms of high upkeep and high liability, for the expedient of cheaply producing a piece of Australian forest to surround their office parks or housing tracts. If a reasonable approach is taken to landscaping, it’s likely that aerial photographs of the whole county will over the next couple of decades show a process similar to Coburn’s hypothetical zoo panoramas: the eucalyptus ghettos, if not actually shrinking, certainly not expanding much further, with new areas under development being shaded by canopies less weedlike and with more tractable trees.

Eucalyptus’s detractors might say that the tree is an interloper from foreign shores, a tree that was never heard of, let alone seen, in California before 1850, and one that has caused problems for residents of the state and helped reduce the region’s indigenous vegetation. But in that sense, the tree and its history are not so different from the human influx into the area. Everywhere from El Cajon and La Jolla to Scripps Ranch and South Bay, up to Hollywood and Santa Barbara, is a transplanted culture founded on the principle of make-believe that has little (if anything) to do with what was originally here. Eucalyptus — fast-growing, ethereal, fragrant, foreign — is the perfect arboreal symbol of the entire process, the quintessential set decoration for Southern California.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader

Comments

Mono culture "plantations" dont sound like a good idea for non native species, particularly if you want them to adapt to the new climate above & underground. It's always a good idea for planters to collaborate with biologists and the likes, growing them in native forests would have given a chance for eucalyptus to adapt to native bacteria in the rhizosphere, even hybridise. These harsh mono plantations sound like more of a test than an attempt to integrate them, the end result being a species whose weaknesses are pronounced and their adaptation is stalled. In reality these are generational projects that need time before adapted specimens can be found, & then mass produced.

Not to mention planting non native species in high risk areas such as park borders, sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. An ignorant county indeed. RIP Freida Williams

Log in to comment

Skip Ad