Controversial Eucalyptus

| November 3, 2019 | 0 Comments

In front of my property on the city’s land stands an enormous eucalyptus tree.  It has been lauded by all and has been designated a community asset.  It is truly beautiful with its lofty branches, its variegated colored bark, its leaves and pods.  It shades our house, and it provides entertainment. 

Unkempt fledgling hawks and falcons with straggly feathers use it as a practice ground.  They remind me of acne-covered teen-agers.  Squirrels play games in it.  Occasionally a murder of crows will stop briefly en route to some crow convention.  We even have a great horned owl who visits.  We hear him cooing to another owl that usually responds while he surveys the menu for his twilight repast.  We feel the rush of his feathers as he leaves to grab his first course. 

Although I appreciate this tree, I also loathe and fear it.  It is a fire hazard, a hazard to our house’s foundation, a physical danger, and a nuisance.

Eucalyptus trees are designed to thrive in wildfires.  They give off an oily residue which allows them to burn hotly.  Sparks and embers fly, igniting everything flammable in their path.  Their seeds survive to make new trees with the fire’s heat.  Many of the existing trees survive.

In addition to being fuel for wildfires, their oil permeates the soil around them.  This means that eventually water sits on top of the oily soil without penetrating it leaving the poor gardener to replace it with new top soil.  Very few garden plants thrive in the oily dirt.

These trees have an incredible but fairly shallow (for their size) root system.  This makes walking difficult as many roots are above the soil’s top level.  They are definitely a tripping hazard as they lift the sidewalk.  They have upended the stairs to the lower floors of our property; we have replaced the stairs at least three times.  Now they have gone on to attack the house’s foundation.   They are pushing over an enormous retaining wall that keeps the dead end of our street from collapsing two stories down.  Their roots make digging in the garden a challenge. 

Eucalyptus trees are determined to survive.  They are designed to minimize evaporation; the leaves are narrow and hang down.  Should a tree feel it is losing too much water, it will choose a limb and let it fly.   (I don’t know how it does this, but the limb is expendable as somehow the tree survives without its limb.)  We experienced this firsthand one hot summer night.  We had had a dinner party on our balcony next to and under the tree.   The guests left at about two in the morning.  We were in bed fifteen minutes later.  The minute we fell asleep, we were awakened by a loud crashing sound.  Racing upstairs in our PJs, we discovered our balcony’s stucco railing was smashed exposing broken studs, chicken wire and tarpaper.  The glass top table was shattered.  The table’s umbrella pole had broken.  All the wine classes and bottles we had left untouched until morning had also shattered.  Thank God our guests and we were not still out there and that the tree hadn’t abandoned its branch an hour earlier.

Another cause for my dislike of this tree is its disregard for aesthetics.  Its bark flies from the tree worse than a redhead’s sunburnt skin.  Great peels of bark litter the street, the sidewalk, the landscape, and the canyons.  Its leaves fly all over.  Not deciduous, it drops leaves all year long.  It also sheds its little hard round pellet-shaped seeds.  Walking on them barefoot is reminiscent of stepping on tiny matchbook cars.  I can fill three greens trashcans every other week without pruning anything.

We have complained to the city.  Unfortunately, the city sent someone to prune it.  We learned the hard way to avoid pruning as the roots see this as encouragement to a growth spurt.  

When we bought this house in 1971, we knew it had termites, no diagonal bracing, iffy supports that floated above their concrete foundations, inadequate and dangerous wiring, antiquated plumbing.  We could fix those items.  We had no idea that a tree in front of our home could be a threat or a danger.  We had no idea it would continue to grow over nearly 50 years so that it and a beautiful jacaranda (our neighbors’) would render our roof impractical for a solar system. 

Solar systems weren’t in use in the early seventies.  We rebuilt a large portion of the house several times so it is structurally sound with newer plumbing and electricity, so many of the problems we purchased no longer exist.  However, next year we will turn 80 and the house will turn 90 in 2020.  We prefer to have our final leave-taking from an erect house with us, dead on a stretcher going out feet first.  It’s a great house for old people if the tree doesn’t kill us first

November’s meeting is the annual holiday potluck party at the church.  It will be held on the third Thursday, November 21, 2019 (due to Thanksgiving), at the United Church of Christ at 4070 Jackdaw from 6 to 8 p.m.

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Category: Gardening, Local News

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.