More than 600 species of eucalyptus trees grow all over Australia. They are also called “gum” trees because some types exude a sticky sap or gum-like substance. Indigenous Australians ate the gum and used it to secure barbs on to weapons or tools.
Eucalyptus comes in many shapes and sizes. Some types are small shrubs. Others, called “mallees,” are multi-stemmed like crape myrtles, and grow to about 33 feet. A third type is a single stemmed tree that can grow to about 300 feet tall. The bark can be stringy and loose or rough like an oak tree’s.
Surprisingly, bush fires help eucalyptus trees to thrive. The intense heat helps to force out the seeds from hard seed pods, allowing future trees to grow. In some types of eucalyptus trees, the oil in their bark and leaves cause them to burn easily, spreading a fire.
Because koalas eat from only about 12 species of eucalyptus trees, fewer trees mean big problems for them. Logging, pollution, and clearing for development affect other wildlife as well that depend on the trees.
Eucalyptus trees stand tall in Australian culture. They have been memorialized in poems, including “Municipal Gum.” The didgeridoo, a musical instrument of indigenous Australians, is mostly made from eucalyptus wood.