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What is Eucalyptus?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Eucalyptus is a genus of plants containing over 500 unique species, primarily native to Australia and Tasmania. The distinctly aromatic trees have adapted to many extremes of the Australian environment, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the region that they grow in. Eucalyptus has also been widely imported to other parts of the world, where it poses a substantial threat to native species, as it grows rapidly and often chokes other plants and trees out.

In Australia, eucalyptus is also known as "malee," and a specific widespread tree, Eucalyptus globulus, globe eucalyptus, is known as "blue gum." The trees have been used by the Aborigines for centuries for timber, tinder, and medical purposes, and have also been utilized by settlers to the region. In Australia, eucalyptus is an iconic part of the national culture, and appears in Australian art and films as a familiar part of the landscape.

The trees has a useful aromatic oil which can be extracted through steam distillation. The oil is used in perfumes, and also in complementary alternative medicine. The oil has been shown to have antiseptic, antibacterial, anti inflammatory, expectorant, and deodorant properties, and is a common additive in products like muscle rubs and deodorant compounds. Care should be taken when using products which contain eucalyptus oil, as it is flammable and also toxic when eaten.

Like many other members of the myrtle family, eucalyptus is extremely fast growing. It can shoot up to great heights in regions with enough water, or will spread out into dense bushes. The trees prefer moisture, and often cluster around waterways and springs. Many species are also designed to spread through wildfires, which are common in many parts of Australia. The seedpods will burst in a fire and grow quickly in a region stripped of other plants by a wildfire, quickly establishing a large tract of new eucalyptus trees.

Eucalyptus from Australia can be considered sustainable timber, because the trees are native to the region and they regrow quickly. However, eucalyptus harvested in other regions may not be sustainable, because it grows at great cost to native plant and tree species, and can destroy valuable habitat. In Australia, eucalyptus plays a vital environmental role, providing food and habitat to animals like koalas, along with helping to retain valuable topsoil. Eucalyptus can be found in a variety of wood products exported from Australia including flooring, paper, and finished furniture.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is eucalyptus and where does it commonly grow?

Eucalyptus is a diverse genus of flowering trees and shrubs, primarily native to Australia. These plants are well-adapted to a range of climates, from snowy mountains to tropical regions. According to the Australian Government's Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, over 700 species of eucalyptus exist, with many adapted to specific Australian ecosystems.

Can eucalyptus be used for medicinal purposes?

Yes, eucalyptus has a long history of medicinal use, particularly for its oil, which is extracted from the leaves. This oil contains compounds like eucalyptol, which can help alleviate coughs and colds. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that eucalyptus oil is also used in topical ointments to relieve muscle and joint pain.

What are the environmental benefits of eucalyptus trees?

Eucalyptus trees offer several environmental benefits. They grow quickly, which makes them effective at carbon sequestration, potentially mitigating climate change. Additionally, they can improve soil quality by reducing salinity levels, as per research published in the Journal of Environmental Management. However, they must be managed carefully to avoid negative impacts on local ecosystems.

Is eucalyptus safe for all animals?

While eucalyptus is a staple for koalas, it is not safe for all animals. The leaves contain compounds that can be toxic if ingested by pets or livestock. The ASPCA lists eucalyptus as toxic to dogs, cats, and horses, causing symptoms like salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and weakness if ingested.

How is eucalyptus oil harvested and what is it used for?

Eucalyptus oil is harvested through a process of steam distillation of the leaves. It's widely used for its antiseptic properties and is found in a variety of products, including cough syrups, rubs, and household cleaners. The oil is also popular in aromatherapy for its refreshing and invigorating scent.

Can eucalyptus trees be invasive outside their native habitat?

Outside their native habitat, eucalyptus trees can become invasive. They are fast-growing and can outcompete local vegetation, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. For example, in California, eucalyptus plantations have altered fire regimes and displaced native species, as reported by the California Invasive Plant Council.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By popcorn — On Jun 24, 2011

Buying furniture made out of eucalyptus is a great way to go green while still having beautiful pieces. Since the forests that are grown for this wood reproduce so quickly, you can rest easy knowing you have made a sustainable wood choice.

Eucalyptus wood is quite hard, very much like oak and if treated it can last around 100 years. Most people prefer this wood because it is a cheaper choice than other woods, while still having a nice appearance.

A good thing to remember though is that eucalyptus wood isn't very water resistant, so it is best if used indoors.

By wander — On Jun 22, 2011

You can actually find eucalyptus tea if you head into any health specialty store. This tea is great for sore throats and does wonders for me when I have a cold or the flu. I find it very soothing and while the taste isn't something I would normally go for, it does the job and isn't any worse than most medicine.

One of the best things I think eucalyptus does when in tea form is work as a decongestant. I hate feeling stuffy and find that the tea helps to clear out my lungs and airways so that I can breathe easier when sick.

By wavy58 — On Jun 22, 2011

I use a facial cleansing cream that contains eucalyptus. This cream removes makeup very well. It also soothes sunburn. I think the same soothing properties of eucalyptus that work to open up congestion work to soothe a sunburn.

The eucalyptus in the cream makes my face feel refreshed and moisturized. When I use it in the morning, it wakes me up with its strong scent. It's kind of like a waterless cold shower for my face!

By cloudel — On Jun 22, 2011

Eucalyptus is available in a salve form. This makes it easy to rub on a congested chest or under congested nostrils.

I have a lot of trouble breathing through my nose at night. I rub a bit of this salve inside of my nostrils, and it really opens my nose up for easier breathing.

When I get a chest cough, I rub this salve on it at night. It seems to help open up my airways. The smell is very powerful, but to me, that smell has come to represent relief, so I don't mind it.

By Monika — On Jun 22, 2011

@JaneAir - I don't particularly like the smell of pure eucalyptus oil but I get colds so much in the winter I think I might try it! Anything natural that will clear out my sinuses when I'm sick sounds like a good idea to me.

By JaneAir — On Jun 22, 2011

I love the smell of eucalyptus! I actually started using oil of eucalyptus to clear out my sinuses whenever I have a cold awhile back and it works great. Believe it or not I got the idea from watching an episode of Lost!

There was one episode where one of the castaways was having trouble with her asthma and had used up her inhaler. They rubbed some eucalyptus oil on her chest and it helped her breathe a lot better. I looked it up online and found that eucalyptus really does help with breathing!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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