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.
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!
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).