The Eucalyptus tree or commonly known as the gum tree is an iconic symbol of native Australia. With a distinctive greyish-silver leaf and tall trunks. This tree is ubiquitous in the Australian landscape and has a fascinating origin tale.
The genus is made up of 800 species of both trees and shrubs. Featuring unique adaptations to the harsh Australian climate their ability to tolerate and thrive through droughts and fire is remarkable. Evidence shows that these ancient giants originated from Gondwana, the supercontinent that existed 140 million years ago.
Prior to colonisation First Nations communities across the continent utilised Eucalypts as a widely adopted natural resource for bush food, medicine, shelter, tooling and ceremonies. The River Red Gum was prized for its antiseptic qualities by First Nations communities, which found it to be extremely effective in treating open wounds such as cuts and sores. Peppermint gum was also known widely as a remedy for gastro-intestinal symptoms.
European colonisers used the eucalyptus trees for timber and paper. They were also originally planted to absorb water from the soil and assist in the prevention of malaria.
The current and future uses of Eucalyptus trees in Australia.
The Eucalyptus tree is used in a variety of applications and is prized for its versatility.
Construction:The wood of the Eucalyptus tree is popular for its strength and is ideal for furniture making, flooring, and construction. In most circumstances Eucalyptus is a sustainable lumber resource, as the trees grow quickly and can be harvested every few years.
In recent years Eucalyptus trees have been used to create a fabric called TENCEL™. The eucalyptus wood is turned into a pulp, which can then be spun into fibres that creates the fabric. 99.95% of water used in the manufacturing process is recycled using a closed loop system. The fabric is also biodegradable as it is made from natural cellulose fibres.
The essential oil can be extracted from the leaves of the Eucalyptus tree. This is often used in fragrances, cosmetics, and cleaning products. It has a fresh and natural scent and is known for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Future potential:Although the Eucalyptus tree is a revered part of the Australian landscape, it does pose great challenges in other parts of the world. The rapid growth of Eucalypt forests in areas of Asia, North America, Europe and Africa have led to the effects of desertification accelerating. The root systems of gum trees are notorious for taking huge amounts of water away from other species of plants within its vicinity. Thereby creating a monocultural environment that is extremely prone to fire risk.
With this in mind if managed correctly (and within the right areas) Eucalypts can play a key role as a raw material for construction, consumer goods and natural textiles such as TENCEL™. There is also a good amount of validity to the concept of using Eucalyptus bushland as a resource for carbon sequestration.
The iconic Eucalyptus tree is a versatile and valuable resource, that has played an important role in Australian culture for centuries. When looking towards a more sustainable future, the gum tree has the potential to be an important vessel when creating a more balanced relationship with our environment.