Eucalyptus: A Favorite of the Koala, It May Become Your Favorite Herb, Too
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.) is an Australian tree species belonging to the Myrtaceae family. The species is wide-ranging, containing over 900 different variants, ranging from short, bushy plants to giant trees. Despite their differences, they are easily identified by their pungent aroma and exfoliating bark.1
Botanist David Nelson discovered the plant in 1777. He took a sample and brought it back to London, where it was given the name Eucalyptus obliqua by Charles-Louis L’Héritier, a French botanist, in reference to the plant’s flower bud and the shape of the leaf, respectively. “Eu” means “well,” while “calyptos” means “covered.” “Obliqua,” on the other hand, comes from “obliquus,” which means oblique in Latin.2
In the following years, many other species of eucalyptus were discovered as more settlers and explorers began to explore the Australian landscape. James Edward Smith, another English botanist, discovered more species of eucalyptus between 1790 and 1802.3
You might be interested to know that the koala, an herbivore mammal native to Australia, is the only mammal that can survive on a diet consisting of eucalyptus alone. In fact, this plant species is their favorite food. Other animals can’t digest or metabolize eucalyptus leaves, and it can even be poisonous to them.
The koala has the advantage of having a specialized caecum, which is a section in the digestive tract containing millions of beneficial bacteria that can break down the eucalyptus leaves safely.4
The rainbow eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus deglupta) is a standout in the eucalyptus family. It can grow up to 250 feet tall, and as the name implies, has a rainbow-colored bark. This occurs when the tree sheds its bark during the summer, creating pale green, red, orange, gray and purple-brown bark streaks.5
Rainbow eucalyptus is mainly used for decorative and shade purposes, but it has various practical uses as well. It is prized for its wood and bark, which is used to make paper.6 If you’re wondering if it’s possible to grow rainbow eucalyptus in your yard, you can — as long as you live in a frost-free area with an area that has access to full sun and plenty of moisture.
However, you may want to think twice about planting a eucalyptus tree, as a mature rainbow tree can grow to be very tall and can quickly become a problem in your garden and your neighborhood, disrupting the soil and breaking up sidewalks. This tree is better suited to parks and fields that can be enjoyed by the public.7