Eucalyptus: It’s Complicated

I propose a town poll about the eucalyptus ordinance. With a lot of help from my friends, I am learning that the eucalyptus issue gets curiouser and 'furiouser.'

My own position is softening toward the middle. I understand that big eucalyptus can be dangerous and annoying. On the other hand, I still am opposed to the town ordinance mandating extensive removal of big beautiful trees.

The choice between beauty and safety is personal. Some citizens are willing to risk danger in order to have more beauty in their lives. They feel good when they look at giant trees and hear the wind rustling thousands of leaves. For others, safety is the more important concern. When they hear wind rustling leaves, they worry about falling branches.

Choices like this are too personal for the town to guess what the majority of residents want, or what the town-wide consensus would be. I propose that there be a town poll, giving everyone a chance to express their preferences about mandatory removal of certain big trees.

Be wary of what you read. It ain’t necessarily so.

There are many stories in print and online about the horrors caused by blue gum and other towering eucalyptus. Thanks to Bill Thigpen, a friend and former colleague at NASA, I have had the opportunity to read some of the relevant scientific literature, part of my reason for softening my position. Surprise—the fire danger of eucalyptus falls between the extremes of those who deny it and those who are obsessed with it.

Thanks to my friend and teacher, Rosalind Creasy, author of Edible Landscaping, I have learned that the big eucalyptus can create landscaping difficulties, for example when a neighbor’s huge tree shades one’s summer vegetables or solar collectors. Consideration of how your trees affect your neighbor should be important when you are deciding what to do with them.

At the very least, if you have giant trees, keep them well-trimmed. Forest service people, local firefighters and arborists agree that a well-trimmed tree is a safer tree. You will get along better with your neighbors if you take proper care of your trees. Conversely, you will get along better with your neighbors if you can avoid getting mad at their beloved trees.

Let’s be cool about this and try to get along. You cannot have peace of mind if you don’t have peace in the neighborhood.

Also: Ros Creasy is teaching me that the native plant thing is neither all good nor all bad. She likes to use natives when designing a garden, but opposes tearing out all non-natives. She is the world’s leading advocate of . Most edibles are non-native.

I was happy to see that the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, recently published an essay, “Don’t judge species on their origins.” (June 9, pages 153-154—available in the Los Altos Library) Lead author Mark Davis and 18 other ecologists wrote, “Conservationists should assess organisms on environmental impact rather than on whether they are natives.”

I have a dream that the big trees in Los Altos Hills will one day not be judged by their ancestry but by the integrity of their individual strength.

About This Column: Each week Pam Walatka will explore sustainable life in Los Altos Hills. Contact Pam at pamwalatka@yahoo.com or see Pam Portugal Walakta Writings on FaceBook.

Pam Walatka July 13, 2011 at 03:36 AM
Thank you Madeline. Eucalyptus do have their bad characteristics, but then, don't we all? I believe they have been over-vilified for being non-native.
James Denz July 13, 2011 at 03:31 PM
When you look at the yards of many people who scream about the importance of using native species, you'll often find a plethora of non-native plants and trees such as roses, camellias, liquidambar, chinese pistache, citrus, pear, apple, apricot, lawn grasses, most pines and deciduous trees, and the list goes on and on and on. we are so fortunate to live in a climate that allows us to grow so many wonderful, colorful, fruitful, and animal friendly plants that it would be a travesty to not take advantage of it. Eucalyptus trees, of which there are many species, are one of my favorites. It's a shame to single all of them out as "bad" trees when there are so many others that would deserve that description much more. In the late 1980s when I had 20 acres in Morgan Hill, there was a large and famous brush fire that swept through thousands of acres and the one thing that I remember most about that particular fire was how the many eucalyptus trees, mostly the pink ironbark variety, in the path of the fire were left unscathed while oaks, pines, sycamores, and others were totally or nearly totally destroyed by the fire. I have to agree with Madeline also in that falling branches are common in many other tree genus' besides eucalyptus and that properly managed trees, no matter what type, will be less likely to exhibit that trait.
Pam Walatka July 13, 2011 at 06:50 PM
Thank you James. I too believe there is strength in diversity, and that nature moves forward, not backward.
Pam Walatka October 11, 2012 at 08:45 PM
For those of you looking for people who want to save eucalyptus trees, see http://sutroforest.com/
Pam Walatka October 29, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I notice that the eucalyptus haters have struck again.


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