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Tree of the Week: The brilliant-colored eucalyptus

October 31, 2009 |  6:00 am

Mindanao gum -- Eucalyptus deglupta 

Streaks of brilliant colors -- red, purple, yellow, blue, green -- are splashed across the trunk of this eucalyptus, which also goes by the name of rainbow eucalyptus. The Mindanao gum is one of the few non-Australian eucalypti. It is native to tropical rainforests in the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and named for the Philippine island of Mindanao. As such it likes regular water and cannot take drought. That and the usual eucalyptus ills of our area make it unlikely for it to be planted much anymore here, but its colorful decorations make it a prized specimen where it does occur.

Gum The tree is grown in tropical areas for pulpwood production for paper and harvested at an early age. Sometimes it is allowed to develop for construction lumber, but the wood is only moderately strong and not durable.

The Mindanao gum is a fast-growing, rather open, erect evergreen tree that may reach a height of 75 to 200 feet and a width of 30 to 75 feet. The smooth bark peels off to display the bright colors underneath. The oval, 6-inch-by-3-inch leaves are bright green. They contain only a little aromatic oil.

The tree may bloom when it is 2 years old. Flowers are clustered together and not very conspicuous. When in bud the white to pale yellow stamens that give blooming flowers a fluffy look are hidden in a covered cap, known as an operculum. The stamens push this cap off at flowering. The genus name, based on the Greek eu kalyptos, or well-covered, refers to this hidden quality. Woody cone-shaped capsules appear after flowering.

The Mindanao gum will take a wide variety of soils, but likes full sun. It is frost hardy down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Just like other eucalyptus trees, it is susceptible to aphid-like psyllids and borers.

The genus Eucalyptus was named by the 18th century French botanist Charles Louis l’Heritier. The tree is part of the myrtle family, or Myrtaceae.

--Pieter Severynen

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Photo: Pieter Severynen