Classic Outback #9

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The eucalyptus genus of trees is one of the most common in Australia. (However I’ve heard it said – by someone who sounded convincing – that the acacia, which includes wattle and mulga, is THE most common.)

Anyway, the River Red Gum (eucalyptus camalduensis) has it all over the acacias in terms of grandeur, and could reasonably be described as the doyen of eucalypts (or gum trees, as they are commonly called). When travelling in rural and Outback Australia, one soon becomes familiar with these majestic warriors of the tree kingdom. They are nearly always found beside or in a water course, or on a flood plain. They can be up to about 50 metres tall, and can live for more than 500 years, with some even said to be 700 years old. The “red” in the name relates to the colour of the wood (see picture below), and not the external appearance of the tree. Gum trees shed their bark rather than their leaves, and this is thought to be a ploy to confuse and amuse overseas visitors.

red gum wood

Many an Outback creek bed, dry for 95% of the time, is populated by red river gums, which cope with and survive by the very occasional torrent of water, often sweeping rocks and logs along in its path. The banks of major rivers like the Darling and the Murray are home to many thousands of river red gums, where they have an important stabilising role.

The Barmah National Park on the Murray River near Echuca, together with nearby areas, contains the largest river red gum forest in the world.

River red gums are sometimes referred to as “widow makers” because of their habit of dropping large boughs without warning. This is said to be a form of “self pruning”, done in order to live on less water during dry periods. It’s certainly not done to entertain nearby campers!

falling gum tree

For the Trivia buffs: What is the only Victorian town which is north of the Murray River? Please give your answer in a comment (see below).

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About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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5 Responses to Classic Outback #9

  1. Mandy says:

    Barmah is considered Victorian though I don’t know why – as you say it is north of the Murray.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Mandy, top of the class, even if you don’t know why! The mighty Murray is a meandering river if ever there was one, and I reckon if you stretched it out in a straight line, it would have to reach at least twice as far as it does. Anyway, between Tocumwal and Echuca, it gives up on its generally east-to-west journey, and heads south and even a bit east for a while. And Barmah is near the river where it’s flowing south-east for a short distance before turning west again.

      To put it another way, it’s like the river flows from the top to the bottom of an S-shaped section, and Barmah is inside the top part of the S.

  2. Actually, eucalypts are the most common trees in Australia — 3 out of 4 trees are eucalypts. Lots of acacias, too, but eucalypts win. I love the river red gums, but I think my favorites might be the ghost gums. That said, I pretty much love them all — so fragrant and graceful.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. I had always believed that gums were Australia’s most common trees. Then a few years ago, someone told me — I can’t remember who, but he seemed to know what he was talking about — that the acacias were. I know there are vast numbers of mulgas in the Outback. My Google searches have failed to reveal any authoritative statement on this matter.

      • Acacias are more numerous worldwide, but eucalypts are more common than acacias in Australia — they are the “signature tree” of Australia. Of the many hundred gum varieties, only 7 occur naturally outside Australia (though many have been transplanted elsewhere). So perhaps the person who was speaking of acacias was speaking of their numbers worldwide. Because eucalypts rule in Oz.

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