Eucalypt Treasures of WA

Main Club August 2020

Our speaker was Malcolm French, an agriculturalist, book publisher, associate researcher and Honorary Curator of the genus Eucalyptus at the WA Herbarium. He is a bush traveller and eucalypt chaser and received an OAM in 2015 for Conservation in Agriculture. Malcolm is now a volunteer at the WA Herbarium. He has published three books on Western Australian eucalypts – one on the Special Eucalypts of Perth and the South-West, one on the Wheatbelt and one on the South-West Coast and Ranges.

Malcolm showed us photos of about 30 of the 500 Western Australian eucalypts from different regions of the state. Every one of them had beautiful features, whether it was the brilliant colour of the flowers, the colours and interesting shapes of the buds, fruit or leaves, the seasonally changing colours of the bark, the graceful shape of the trunk and branches, or several of these features combined.

Time and again during this brilliant slide show, Malcolm questioned why some of these eucalypts were not used in Perth or country towns as street trees, or why nurseries in WA were not selling these species from our own State. About 100 WA species are in cultivation, and many of them are used to good effect by Shires in the Eastern States in streets and parks, but very few are used here in the West.

There are several advantages of growing Western Australian eucalypts, Malcolm said. Apart from their use as shade trees and windbreaks, most of them don’t drop their branches, they don’t need to be watered after the first summer, many of them are stunningly beautiful, and they are “seriously easy” to germinate and grow.

We would all do well to talk to nurserymen about some of these beautiful eucalypts to grow on our own properties or for our local Council to grow in streets and parks. Or we can bypass the nurseries and collect ripe fruit from our favourite eucalypts – where permitted. Place the fruit (the nut) in a paper bag and leave it in a warm place to drop its seeds and chaff. Then throw the seed-and-chaff mix onto the soil and sprinkle with water to germinate.

Implied in Malcolm’s talk, however, was one caveat: that, when choosing a eucalypt to plant, we need to take into account the climate and soil-type which that species is adapted to. It is a fair bet that eucalypts that are thriving in Kings Park are well-adapted to the soils and climate of Perth.

Malcolm finished by talking about the effect of fire on eucalypts. After fire, mallees will resprout from their lignotubers, and many eucalypts will resprout from epicormic buds under the bark. But there are some that are obligate seeders. These species, such as Gimlet (Eucalyptus torquata), may be killed by a fire and rely on the germination of seed for their survival. The fires in the WA Goldfields at the end of 2019 killed eucalypts over vast areas. Due to the lack of rain since then, we don’t yet know (as at 7/8/20) whether seed from the obligate seeders will germinate.

Mike Gregson


EucMedia

This is part of the Eucalypts of WA web site and is a series of downloadable pdf files featuring many of Western Australia’s magnificent eucalypts.