Eucalyptus: The Myths Of A Cursed Tree

Eucalyptus. Image: Mingman Shutterstock

Eucalyptus has always had a “bad press”. If everything bad that is said about eucalyptus trees were true, Australia, their native country, covered by immense eucalyptus forests, would be a dead continent, without life.

To destroy natural forests to plant eucalyptus is a disaster, on that we are sure we all agree. But in degraded lands where nothing grows anymore, where only eucalyptus is capable of growing, it can be of great help to the environment.

But first let’s talk about this species.

Eucalyptus.

The favorite food of koalas is eucalyptus leaves, but only 2 or 3 classes of the 700 different that exist of this type of trees up to 100 meters high. Many of these huge logs do not cast their long shadow over Australia. We can find eucalyptus all over the world, used for the wood industry, to produce paper or for the very special oil that covers its branches, used for perfumes, anti-mosquitoes or cleaning products for the home.

Eucalyptus is a species of tree that belongs to the Myrtaceae family. These are the most common trees in Australia. There are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, almost all of them native to Australia. However, some species are also found in New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Many of them are currently cultivated for ornamental or productive purposes in the temperate zones of the American continent, Europe, Asia and Africa. Eucalyptus is actually just one of three very similar and close genera that are often confused. The others are called Corymbia and Angophora.

These trees are ultra-fast growing, capable of growing up to 3 meters in 12 months.

Some of them are nicknamed “rubber trees” because of the latex that comes out when their bark is treated. The name eucalyptus comes from the Greek and means “well hidden” in reference to the fact that the petals initially hide the center of the flower.

Eucalyptus trees began to emerge from their native Australia on Captain James Cook’s ships back in 1766. A few years later, they were described and given their current name by the French botanist L’Heriter.

Image: Andrea Izzotti Shutterstock

Myths of eucalyptus cultivation.

Let’s review some of the myths that have spread uncontrollably in relation to the cultivation of eucalyptus. #CoñecementoParaAll

Eucalyptus is an enemy of the soil, which it depletes.

Different investigations have come to the conclusion that eucalyptus does not cause a depletion in the soil nor does it have any danger for future productivity. On the contrary, eucalyptus manages to maintain an abundant and varied microflora that helps to break down waste and incorporate it into the nutritional system. One hundred years of eucalyptus cultivation has been proven to have no detrimental effects on the soil.

The roots of the eucalyptus penetrate very deep into the earth to absorb nutrients that no other species reaches, in this way it does not compete with other plants.

Incompatibility between eucalyptus and autochthonous species.

In different areas, old eucalyptus trees have been converted into apple orchards, peach trees, pine forests, vineyards or meadows, in which identical or superior harvests have been obtained to those of the neighboring farms traditionally not occupied by eucalyptus.

Soil erosion.

Eucalyptus can help maintain the integrity of the terrain. The cultivation of eucalyptus allows to recover degraded forests and form soil. They are one of the few trees that can survive in eroded soils, in addition to contributing to their recovery.

Eucalyptus has been used as a fixer for unstable and moving terrain, as a dam for ravines, embankments or in the face of earth movements.

Depletion of water reserves.

The white eucalyptus, with the greatest presence in Galicia, requires humid soils but does not resist waterlogging. In summer, the demand for water from pine, eucalyptus and oak trees is similar.

In Australia, the basins that supply large cities, such as Canberra, are populated with eucalyptus.

The eucalyptus consumes less water than is spoken, since it has the ability to close its leaves, thus during droughts, its evaporation is radically reduced.

Eucalyptus harms the environment.

Eucalyptus not only does not harm the environment but is also respectful of it, it houses a peculiar fauna and flora, performs hydro-forestry corrective functions, and acts as an acoustic protector, as a windbreak or as a curtain that prevents insolation of livestock.

The planting and exploitation of eucalyptus in certain areas serves to protect species such as cedars, holm oaks, cork oaks …, as well as overexploited tropical forests.

The eucalyptus has been revealed as one of the species most capable of “sequestering” CO2 and greenhouse gases, thus releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

Eucalyptus is a monoculture that only serves to make cellulose.

The species of rapid growth such as eucalyptus trees occupied 7% of the wooded area in Spain, producing 44% of the wood for industrial use.

If the eucalyptus grows at an average of 15 m3 / ha / year and the oak 1 m3 / ha / year it is evident that each year that passes there will be more wood than the first to cut.

The use of eucalyptus goes far beyond the transformation into paper pulp, its possibilities go through the pitches for mines, railway sleepers, mussel rafts, fences, fences or posts, construction beams, formwork, packaging or pallets, manufacturing of doors, windows or furniture, dashboards of high-end cars, use of its bark to make tannins, or its leaves to obtain essential oils, or that of its flowers as ornamental elements or for beekeeping.

The exploitation of eucalyptus meets the growing demand for paper in the world. Eucalyptus produces a traditionally profitable wood due to its very high production per hectare and year, and because for each cubic meter it produces 35% more fiber than birch and 45% more than pine.

Eucalyptus is the enemy of biodiversity and health.

Living fossils such as the platypus, the kangaroo or the koala develop in their original ecosystems. Turtle doves, storks, eagles, goldfinches, partridges, kites, woodpeckers, among others, nest in the eucalyptus trees of the Iberian Peninsula. They are also used as cattle roosts and as a habitat for wolves, wild boars and even roe deer.

The eucalyptus is a tree capable of living almost anywhere, withstanding almost any circumstance and growing fast.

Advantages of eucalyptus cultivation.

Among the advantages of growing eucalyptus in the environment of Sustainable Forest Management we can talk about:

  • A renewable source of raw material. Eucalyptus produces more wood or biomass with the same resources.
  • A renewable energy source. Thanks to their rapid growth and the caloric power of their biomass, they are an efficient source of renewable energy.
  • It generates activity and employment in rural areas. A good opportunity to fight against the abandonment of rural areas.
  • The most efficient species to generate raw material.  Although it is not an autochthonous species of the Iberian Peninsula, the eucalyptus yields more in the same field.
  • Protect natural forests. Eucalyptus plantations meet the demand for wood and biomass, thereby reducing pressure on natural forests.
  • Multiple use of Mt. The cultivation of eucalyptus is compatible with other uses: livestock, hunting, beekeeping …
  • Improves marginal or degraded soils. Forest crops improve poor-quality land.
  • They can stop fires.  Thanks to the fact that in eucalyptus crops the combustible material under the canopies is much less than in an unmanaged natural forest, it can help stop the rapid evolution and uncontrolled fire.

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