Monday, August 11, 2014

Mixed Feelings for Eucalyptus dalrympleana

I try to start these blog posts with some kind of catchy reason why you should love the plant being profiled.  When it comes to Eucalyptus dalrympleana (USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11), there are just too many reasons to pick just one.  So instead of my normal format, this whole post will support the following reasons to love (or hate) this beautiful Euc.

E. dalrympleana has showy, vanilla
scented blooms that can be messy
Reason #1, Love: Its flowers smell like vanilla / Hate: The flowers also make a huge mess

In its native range of southwest Australia, Eucalyptus dalrympleana blooms through late summer.  At Kew, our specimens burst into flower in early August, and the blossoms linger through to September.  This species of Eucalyptus usually has clusters of three flowers, but some specimens from the northern tableland may have clusters of as many as seven flowers.

Although the very frilly blooms fall to bits and make a giant mess below the tree, I think that's a flaw worth forgiving.  The burden of sweeping the pathways at least one day a week is lightened if you can pause to enjoy being enveloped in their soft vanilla scent.

Reason #2, Love: Its leaves smell like cinnamon / Hate: It is constantly shedding leaves

Although many of the most familiar species of Eucalyptus have a soft blue cast to their leaves, E. dalrympleana has shining green foliage.  The attractive green foliage makes this plant a bit easier to place in the landscape than the more striking, blue-leaved Eucs.  When crushed, the leaves smell strongly of cinnamon.

Fruit and foliage of E. dalrympleana
The mountain gum near Kew's aquatic garden has been dropping leaves the whole time that I've been here.  Daisy and I usually have to rake them up at least once a week.  Some weeks Jim the volunteer has to rake them up too.  It's frustrating to think of the other things we could be doing with our time if this tree would just take a break.  However, this tree is easy to forgive because raking doesn't always take too terribly long, and when you step on or rake up the brown, dead leaves everything smells like cinnamon.

Reason #3, Love: In August, it makes the whole area smell like pumpkin pie / Hate: In August, you may have some "hay fever"

I know that so many other foods besides pumpkin pie contain both vanilla and cinnamon, but for some reason this tree just smells like pumpkin pie.  The week that the flowers really started to come in, Jim, Daisy and I were working around the trees at the aquatic garden.  Jim casually asked if I'd ever had pumpkin pie.  "Of course I have," I replied, "We have it every Thanksgiving."

This Eucalyptus is especially floriferous in August
He went on to casually mention that the last intern from the U.S. brought in a homemade pumpkin pie, and that he'd really enjoyed it.  At first I thought he was fishing for some pie (he may well have been), but when time passed and I couldn't shake a hankering for pumpkin pie, I realized that the tree was responsible for his comments.  Probably 100 feet all around these trees smelled strongly of the dessert.  Who could help but reminisce about pie when the spot you've been working for the past few hours smells so delicious?

Although I do love the smell of sweet pumpkin pie while I work, this plant has also been giving me some irritating allergies (or as they say in the U.K., "hay fever").  The overload of pollen has been giving me itchy, runny eyes, the sniffles, and some sinus pressure.  It hasn't stopped me from going out of my way to walk through the flowers on my way to the lockers yet though.

Really beautiful, but constantly
shedding, bark

Reason #4, Love: Its peeling, snow white and cinnamon bark / Hate: It is constantly shedding bark

Although the flowers and scent are nice, what really draws visitors up to these trees is the incredibly attractive bark.  Most of the surface is clean and white, but as is true with many Eucs, the bark peels.  This species will loose huge swathes of cinnamon red bark.  The bark looks really attractive while it's still on the tree.  Yet the bark is a bit irritating when it's scattered all below the tree.  We're constantly picking up chunks of bark from the lawn, paths, and raking it out of the beds below.

Reason #5, Love: Its sinuous, twisting wood and open habit / Hate: Fear of dropping limbs

E. dalrympleana has strong, heavy branches that are held nearly horizontally from the trunk.  This feature gives the trees a very open, savanna-like feel.  It also can be quite dangerous.

View from the inside of this mountain gum
One windy day, while I was intently trying to snap a clear shot of the flowers for this post, a visitor ambled up beside me.  "We call this tree the widdah-makah," said a young man with a thick Australian accent.  I didn't quite understand what he was saying at first, but I guess they call this tree the "widow maker" where he's from.  He explained that although the habit is beautiful, it's also a deadly combination.  Extremely heavy wood held at such an angle is prone to drop without much warning.  A heavy limb from up to 120 feet overhead can kill a person.  Thus the nickname.  "Men would go into the bush, but they wouldn't come back."

Kew's arborists keep an eye on this specimen, along with all the other trees on the property.  If you look up into the canopy, you can see the measures they have taken to prevent any falling limbs.  They remove any branches that they decide are dangerous, and they even tie supports to hold up the limbs that they suspect may fall.  Homeowners should avoid planting these trees in heavily populated areas and consult with an arborist for regular maintenance.

Reason #6, Love: Its sap looks like red spaghetti / Hate: Its sap will stain any pavement below the tree

Although the wound has nearly healed, you can
spot the red strands of sap eeking out of the cut
If you prune any tree, the wound will drip with sap until it begins to heal.  In my experience, the cut usually looks a bit damp for a bit, then dries up.  The sap of E. dalrympleana doesn't behave like any other sap I've seen before.  When it eeks from a wound, it comes out in thick, long, spaghetti-like strips.  The sap is a brilliant red, which makes the wounds quite showy.

Although this looks really very interesting, the sap does fall eventually.  If it falls on a pathway below, the sap can stain the pathway with red, sticky dots.

This tree is beautiful, adaptable, easy to love for all of its virtuous and even easier to forgive for all of its failings.  That is why this attractive Eucalyptus would make a valuable addition to any large garden or landscape.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Mixed feelings for this Eucalyptus" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated.

All photos and videos were taken by Amanda Plante at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unless otherwise stated in the caption.

  • Center for the International Trade in Endangered Species database
  • Kelly, S.; Chippendale, G.M.; Johnson, R.D.  (1969).  Eucalypts.  Melbourne: Thomas Nelson (Australia) Ltd., page 38
  • Kew's Living Collections database
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of threatened species
  • The Plant List website
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website and staff

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