Common names include Messmate, Stringybark, Bloodwood, Fuzzy Box and Woolly-butt
have figured out which of the 600 eucalypt species are good for lumber and which are best for oil and honey. But that expertise hasn't always filtered across the Pacific.
Eucalypts are used today in Australia for everything from fencing and furniture to sports equipment and musical instruments. E. propinqua (Grey Gum) yields a reddish timber that's good for poles, bridges and wharves, while e. maculata (Spotted Gum) yields a hard and durable timber used for structural timbers and tool handles (the flowers make a nice amber honey too.) E. microcorys (Tallow-wood) has a shiny lustre and is one of the best timbers for dance floors. (That's probaby what the dancers are sliding around on in the final scene of the film, Strictly Ballroom.)
Early Californians didn't know that in Australia the Tasmanian Blue Gum is known as a stubborn wood, heavy and strong but difficult to work. The vast tracts planted in Blue Gums proved useless for railroad ties and construction. California's stands of eucaluptus are a legacy of a boom and bust Blue Gum craze.
No wonder early Californians had trouble distinguishing between eucalypts. Eucalyptus are notoriously difficult to identify in the field. Species with shaggy bark in one soil develop smooth bark in other habitats. Some species have opposite leaves as juveniles but alternating leaves as adults. All this is further complicated by eucalypts' natural tendency to hybridize.
Eucalyptus species have a colorful variety of common names: Messmate, Stringybark, Bloodwood, Fuzzy Box and Woolly-butt. Then there are the gums: Spotted Gum, Tropical Gum, Swamp Gum, Mealy Gum, Drooping Gum. (Seventeenth century explorers like Abel Tasman mis-identified the tannin-bearing kino oozing from eucalypts as "gum" or "gum-lac." Some people still call all eucalypts gum trees, while foresters reserve the term for eucalypts with smooth bark.
Common names vary wildly from one region to another, too. Eucalyptus ovatta is called Swamp gum in Victoria, Black Gum in Southern Tasmania and White gum in Northern Tasmania. Down in southern Tasmania, e. regnans is called Swamp Gum, but the same tree in northern Tasmania is Stringy Gum. "Blue Gum" can refer to e. saligna, e. leucoxylon, e. tereticornis and e. globulus. In other words, identification of eucalypts is a mess, mate.
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