How Australian eucalyptus came to California
Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia. But they have made their way across the globe to us in California and been here for about 170 years! California’s climate is similar to parts of Australia, and thus the eucalyptus trees survive in even poor soil and water conditions.
The eucalyptus trees were first carried over to California during the 1850s Gold Rush by Australians. They hoped to plant the trees to sell as a renewable and fast-growing source of timber, and the state government encouraged it. California was mostly grasslands and marshes, and eucalyptus could grow up to eight feet a year.
Wood was in high demand as a source of energy and as a building material, but also for railroad ties. However in reality, the young eucalyptus trees were poor-quality lumber and prone to twisting as they dried, and thus abandoned as a source for construction.
However, the eucalyptus trees, particularly blue gums, were still planted to block strong winds. California, especially the flat middle of the state, used eucalyptus trees to provide windbreaks, round highways and farms and other areas. To this day, many highways in California are still lined with the trees.
Fun fact: Rumor has it that the tallest hardwood tree in North America is an eucalyptus blue gum tree at UC Berkeley’s campus, where some trees in the Eucalyptus Grove are nearly 200 feet high! The stand of trees was originally planted as a windbreak for a running track.