Friday, August 23, 2013

The Eucalyptus in California

While many voices are heard about the future of Eucalyptus trees in urban California, I looked at a book from the time these trees were first planted here. Ellwood Cooper from Santa Barbara published a book in 1876 (“The Only Reliable Work on the Blue Gum Published in the United States”) entitled Forest Culture and Eucalyptus Trees (San Francisco: Cubery & Co.), pictured here:

Cooper grew 50,000 young trees at his home “Ellwood” and lauds their fast growth and height. Cooper calls them “Fever Trees” and suggests they “possess qualities which place it transcendentally above all other plants; … rendering localities healthy in which to sleep a single night was almost certain death. Useful in all the Mechanical Arts and in the industrial purposes of life. Large trees can be grown in a few years.” He seems to subscribe to the miasma theory of disease when proposing Eucalypti as healing agents.

While these trees were found useful by California farmers and ranchers who used them as windbreaks (you can still see them as you drive down Highway 101), perhaps not so much by the Southern Pacific which wanted cheap wood for  railroad ties. Cooper's book has an evangelical tone familiar to American readers in the late nineteenth century when Nature was bent to man’s hand through science. Many such well-intentioned attempts have backfired since those days and left us with present controversies.

Will Murdoch
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