Size and habit
A mature eucalyptus may take the form of a low shrub or a very large tree. The species can be divided into three main habits and four size categories.
As a generalisation "forest trees" are single-stemmed and have a crown forming a minor proportion of the whole tree height. "Woodland trees" are single-stemmed, although they may branch at a short distance above ground level.
"Mallees" are multistemmed from ground level, usually less than 10 m (33 ft) in height, often with the crown predominantly at the ends of the branchlets and individual plants may combine to form either an open or closed formation. Many mallee trees may be so low-growing as to be considered a shrub.
Two other tree forms are notable in Western Australia and described using the native names "mallet" and "marlock". The "mallet" is a small to medium-sized tree that does not produce lignotubers and has a relatively long trunk, a steeply branching habit and often a conspicuously dense
terminal crown. This is the normal habit of mature healthy specimens of Eucalyptus occidentalis, E. astringens, E. spathulata, E. gardneri, E. dielsii, E. forrestiana, E. salubris, E. clivicola, and E. ornata. The smooth bark of mallets often has a satiny sheen and may be white, cream, grey, green, or copper.
The term marlock has been variously used; in Forest Trees of Australia, it is defined as a small tree without lignotubers, but with a shorter, lower-branching trunk than a mallet. They usually grow in more or less pure stands. Clearly recognisable examples are stands of E. platypus, E. vesiculosa, and the unrelated E. stoatei.
The term "morrell" is somewhat obscure in origin and appears to apply to trees of the western Australian wheatbelt and goldfields which have a long, straight trunk, completely rough-barked. It is now used mainly for E. longicornis (red morrell) and E. melanoxylon (black morrell).
Tree sizes follow the convention of:
- Small: to 10 m (33 ft) in height
- Medium-sized: 10–30 m (33–98 ft)
- Tall: 30–60 m (98–197 ft)
- Very tall: over 60 m (200 ft)
Nearly all eucalyptus are evergreen, but some tropical species lose their leaves at the end of the dry season. As in other members of the myrtle family, eucalyptus leaves are covered with oil glands. The copious oils produced are an important feature of the genus. Although mature eucalyptus trees may be towering and fully leafed, their shade is characteristically patchy because the leaves usually hang downwards.
The leaves on a mature eucalyptus plant are commonly lanceolate, petiolate, apparently alternate and waxy or glossy green. In contrast, the leaves of seedlings are often opposite, sessile and glaucous, but many exceptions to this pattern exist. Many species such as E. melanophloia and E. setosa retain the juvenile leaf form even when the plant is reproductively mature. Some species, such as E. macrocarpa, E. rhodantha, and E. crucis, are sought-after ornamentals due to this lifelong juvenile leaf form. A few species, such as E. petraea, E. dundasii, and E. lansdowneana, have shiny green leaves throughout their life cycle. E. caesia exhibits the opposite pattern of leaf development to most eucalyptus, with shiny green leaves in the seedling stage and dull, glaucous leaves in mature crowns. The contrast between juvenile and adult leaf phases is valuable in field identification.
Four leaf phases are recognised in the development of a eucalyptus plant: the ‘seedling’, ‘juvenile’, ‘intermediate’, and ‘adult’ phases. However, no definite transitional point occurs between the phases. The intermediate phase, when the largest leaves are often formed, links the juvenile and adult phases.
In all except a few species, the leaves form in pairs on opposite sides of a square stem, consecutive pairs being at right angles to each other (decussate). In some narrow-leaved species, for example E. oleosa, the seedling leaves after the second leaf pair are often clustered in a detectable spiral arrangement about a five-sided stem. After the spiral phase, which may last from several to many nodes, the arrangement reverts to decussate by the absorption of some of the leaf-bearing faces of the stem. In those species with opposite adult foliage the leaf pairs, which have been formed opposite at the stem apex, become separated at their bases by unequal elongation of the stem to produce the apparently alternate adult leaves.
The most readily recognisable characteristics of eucalyptus species are the distinctive flowers and fruit (capsules or "gumnuts"). Flowers have numerous fluffy stamens which may be white, cream, yellow, pink, or red; in bud, the stamens are enclosed in a cap known as an operculum which is composed of the fused sepals or petals, or both. Thus, flowers have no petals, but instead decorate themselves with the many showy stamens. As the stamens expand, the operculum is forced off, splitting away from the cup-like base of the flower; this is one of the features that unites the genus. The name Eucalyptus, from the Greek words eu-, well, and kaluptos, cover, meaning "well-covered", describes the operculum. The woody fruits or capsules are roughly cone-shaped and have valves at the end which open to release the seeds, which are waxy, rod-shaped, about 1 mm in length, and yellow-brown in colour. Most species do not flower until adult foliage starts to appear; E. cinerea and E. perriniana are notable exceptions.
The extraordinary coloured bark of E. deglupta
native to Southeast Asia
The appearance of eucalyptus bark varies with the age of the plant, the manner of bark shed, the length of the bark fibres, the degree of furrowing, the thickness, the hardness, and the colour. All mature eucalypts put on an annual layer of bark, which contributes to the increasing diameter of the stems. In some species, the outermost layer dies and is annually deciduous, either in long strips (as in E. sheathiana) or in variably sized flakes (E. diversicolor, E. cosmophylla, or E. cladocalyx). These are the gums or smooth-barked species. The gum bark may be dull, shiny, or satiny (as in E. ornata) or matte (E. cosmophylla). In many species, the dead bark is retained. Its outermost layer gradually fragments with weathering and sheds without altering the essentially rough-barked nature of the trunks or stems — for example E. marginata, E. jacksonii, E. obliqua, and E. porosa.
E. globulus bark cells are able to photosynthesize in the absence of foliage, conferring an "increased capacity to re-fix internal CO2 following partial defoliation". This allows the tree to grow in less-than-ideal climates, in addition to providing a better chance of recovery from damage sustained to its leaves in an event such as a fire.
Many species are ‘half-barks’ or ‘blackbutts’ in which the dead bark is retained in the lower half of the trunks or stems — for example, E. brachycalyx, E. ochrophloia, and E. occidentalis — or only in a thick, black accumulation at the base, as in E. clelandii. In some species in this category, for example E. youngiana and E. viminalis, the rough basal bark is very ribbony at the top, where it gives way to the smooth upper stems. The smooth upper bark of the half-barks and that of the completely smooth-barked trees and mallees can produce remarkable colour and interest, for example E. deglupta.
Different commonly recognised types of bark include:
- Stringybark — consists of long fibres and can be pulled off in long pieces. It is usually thick with a spongy texture.
- Ironbark — is hard, rough, and deeply furrowed. It is impregnated with dried kino (a sap exuded by the tree) which gives a dark red or even black colour.
- Tessellated — bark is broken up into many distinct flakes. They are corkish and can flake off.
- Box — has short fibres. Some also show tessellation.
- Ribbon — has the bark coming off in long, thin pieces, but is still loosely attached in some places. They can be long ribbons, firmer strips, or twisted curls.