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Where has all the South African blue gum gone?

big globulus in south africa

Flowering splendour: an old blue gum outside the Houw Hoek Inn near Cape Town, South Africa.

Brad Pots infront of gobulus

Brad Potts enjoys the old tree - almost as good as the ones back home!

Globulus in old photo

The tree was big even in the olden days.

Brad­ Potts
School of Plant Science
University of Tasmania

In 1828 South Africa became one of the first countries into which Eucalyptus globulus was introduced (Doughty 2000; Potts et al. 2004).  Several plants from Australian seed raised in Mauritius were planted in the Governor’s garden (near The Company Garden) in central Cape Town. By the late 19th century E. globulus was the most wide-spread eucalypt species in South Africa as it was favoured by farmers for its hardiness and rapid growth ( Hutchins 1905). However, by the early 1900s foresters started replacing it with other eucalypt species that had comparable growth but produced a timber of superior value. Subsequent susceptibility to major pest and disease problems, particularly the introduced Gonipterus scutellatus which had major out-breaks in the 1920s, resulted in the planting of E. globulus virtually ceasing by the 1940s (Doughty 2000; Potts et al. 2004).  Although a biological control of Gonipterus scutellatus was introduced, this once widely planted eucalypt species is now only found as isolated trees or very small plantings in the predominantly winter rainfall province, Western Cape. There does not appear to be any old E. globulus remaining in The Company Gardens in Cape Town, although there are a dozen or so small trees several city blocks from this area. One of the largest (and possibly one of the oldest) E. globulus trees in South Africa is located 70 km southeast of Cape Town alongside the Houw Hoek Inn.  This hotel is one of the oldest in South Africa and is located on the site of a toll gate that was established in the days of the Dutch East India Company. The first floor of the building dates from 1779 and the inn was established in 1834.

Doughty, R.W. (2000). "The Eucalyptus. A natural and commercial history of the gum tree". The Johns Hopkins Univer­sity Press, Baltimore and London.

Biobuzz issue nine, august 2009