Myrtaceae (myrtle family) Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus camaldulensis river red gum

Trio of Eucalyptus camaldulensis among the dark-barked E. sideroxylon at Meyer Green. Sairus Patel, 17 Nov 2022
Eucalyptus camaldulensis flower buds. John Rawlings, c 2005

River red gum, one of the eucalypts most commonly seen in California, grows along rivers over most of Australia, from the wet tropics to cool temperate regions, withstands arid conditions, and if flooded for long periods does not succumb. It has two root systems: one for surface moisture, if any, and deep penetrating roots for subsurface water. In tests in overseas climates with low rainfall it outperformed Tasmanian blue gum for wood production and is now seen all around the Mediterranean; in several countries it is the only eucalypt used.

The wood is hard, dense, and red – hence the common name. The Latin name, given in 1832 by Frederick Dehnhardt (1787–1876), refers ultimately to a congregation of monk hermits founded a thousand years ago in Tuscany at Camàldoli. At the time, Dehnhardt was head gardener to the Count of Camàlduli in Naples.

In the center of campus, find a trio of river red gum to the right of the coffee stand in front of Green Library’s East Wing, two at the northeast corner of the East Wing, and one on Panama Mall overlooking Terman Fountain. All are mixed in among red ironbark.

Red gums were planted as an avenue on Searsville Road, where some still remain, along with large blue gums. Other old specimens can be seen across Galvez Street from the football stadium among a plantation of mostly blue gum. A dozen are planted in the parking lot west of Lagunita Court, and various specimens are mixed in with other eucalypts along Campus Drive behind Knight Management Center. River red gum, like blue gum, has fallen out of favor for new plantings on campus. Many have been under serious attack by the lerp insect, a species of psyllid.

Eucalyptus camaldulensis buds and fruit capsules. From Australia Forestry and Timber Bureau, Illustrations of the buds and fruits of eucalyptus species, 4th ed., 1962

Juvenile leaves, a little shorter and broader than mature leaves, are not so distinctive as those of blue gum. Many campus specimens have smooth, peeling bark in large patches of cream, pale gray, and brown-gray. Some have persistent, rougher bark at the base of the trunk. Buds in sevens (though sometimes as many as 11), with conical opercula, can always be found. The valves in the center of the fruit, when mature, protrude out fiercely. The papery opercula, pushed off by the growing flowers, fall on the ground, sometimes with the sound of light rain. The benign litter soon blows away. If you are observant and catch the flower buds as they are developing you can find a tiny outer operculum, perched over the inner operculum and shed early.

Just as the operculum represents the fused petals of an ancestral plant, so the outer operculum represents the bracts that surrounded those petals. When the eucalypts long ago dispensed with petals as an attractant to pollinators, economically relying on the sex organs alone for color, the operculum was assigned the role of covering the delicate growing stamens. Hence the name eucalyptus, meaning well covered. The name of the nymph Calypso (unconfirmed daughter of Atlas), who troubled Odysseus, has the same Greek origin.

Operculum in Latin means lid, the same word that is used for the hard trapdoors that protect small marine molluscs and are found on beaches as white discs with spiral engraving.

Related material: Eucalyptus checklist.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings subsequently changed the number of buds that can be sometimes found in a cluster from 10 to 11. Sairus Patel revised the entry in various ways and included several additional locations; all locations are up to date (Nov 2022).