Australia’s much loved red gums
Eucalyptus camaldulensis, commonly called red gum because of its red heartwood, must be one of the best known and admired trees in the Australian landscape.
Red gums can be huge ancient trees and they occur in every state of Australia except for Tasmania and depending on where they occur and under what conditions, they can vary in form and shape.
In South Australia there are some distinct populations principally following water courses or on naturally occurring floodplains. Red gums are the most dominant trees tracking the course of the Murray River. In the Mount Lofty Ranges red gums not only follow watercourses but can occur as paddock trees and on hill tops. In the south east of the state the paddock red gums growing on the periodically inundated flats are just stunning, some are huge with wide spreading arching branches and they seem to all have their own individual identity. No wonder red gums have been one of the mostly widely painted trees in landscape painting.
The red gums in the Flinders Ranges invariably follow the water courses and need the occasional flood to prosper. They have their own distinct appearance with lighter coloured almost white bark and a spreading habit. Other populations in South Australia have bark that will periodically shed in patches while most of the trunk is smooth with a light cream or light brown colour.
A unique form of red gum occurs on Eyre Peninsula and I have vivid memories of the population that grows naturally between Elliston and Lock near Mt Wedge. Incredibly this is one of the few populations that grow naturally on soils containing limestone which are quite shallow. The form at Mt Wedge is a wide spreading low branching form that is very attractive.
Red gums are some of the most important trees for providing habitat for a host of fauna. Many of the old trees naturally form hollows which are highly valued by a host of different bird species, mammals and even reptiles. If you examine the base of a red gum with its invariable smaller patches of shedding bark you will discover a host of insects, beetles and spiders. And then the small white flowers which mostly occur in summer produce abundant pollen and nectar and are much sought after by a host of different bird species and bees.
Red gums are big trees that are not suited to all but the very largest gardens, but they are mostly a paddock tree for the park or farm but it is recommended to select a form that is adapted to your area (i.e. plant red gums from seed collected from your local population).
There is so much more that could be written about red gums, their history and uses but for now I have given you a brief insight into some of the indigenous South Australian populations.