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Eucalyptus platyphylla F.Muell. 1859
pronounced: yoo-kuh-LIP-tuss plat-ee-FY-luh
(Myrtaceae — the gum family)
common name: Poplar Gum
Eucalyptus comes from two Greek words, ευ (eu), good, and καλυπτος (kalyptos), covered, i.e., well-covered; platyphylla comes from πλατυς (platus), wide or broad, and φυλλον (phyllon), leaf, foliage, i.e. broad-leaved.
These beautiful eucalypts are still a feature of the island, although many that were on the road verges have either been removed or mutilated because of the danger of their falling on power lines. This includes a fine specimen that was in my garden. Unfortunately it was entirely hollow, and riddled with termites, and was judged unsafe. The poplar gum woodland was once extensive through Nelly Bay, and indeed that bay still probably contains the most trees of this species. A few old habitat trees are still represented on roadsides and in backyards.
The Poplar gum is a small to medium tree, 8–20 m in height, semi-deciduous in the dry season. It is distributed within 100 km of the Queensland coast between Rockhampton and Cape York. It is often seen with a crooked trunk and low branches, but in the right soil it sometimes grows a beautiful straight trunk. It often grows on poorly-drained flats in heavy clay soils, as well as on hillsides in shallow soils.
The broad, dull green leaves are on long stalks and can be rounded, cordate or broadly ovate. It is smooth-barked throughout, appearing white to cream in colour, with a powdery surface after shedding. The bark gradually darkens to a pale pink or reddish colour, after which it is shed. Small clusters of white flowers appear from August to October, followed by woody, gumnut-like fruit. Unusually for eucalypts, it drops some of its leaves when flowering. In good years it may lose only a few leaves, but in an exceptionally dry year it can lose almost its whole canopy.
In addition to this, our local trees are beset by the sulphur-crested white cockatoos, who chew off small branches that then litter the ground under the trees. They can bring down a surprisingly large amount of the foliage in a day, as I can attest after cleaning up the mess under my former tree for many years. The hollow nature of the tree (mainly due to termite action) means that limbs often shear off and fall to the ground. These hollow logs provide habitat for many ground species, and the hollow left in the tree nesting places for possums and for many birds, including the blue-winged kookaburra, the sulphur-crested white cockatoo, the rainbow lorikeet and the forest kingfisher. It is said that burning the leaves of the white poplar is a good mosquito repellant, and that drinking an infusion of the leaves in water is an effective remedy against sneezing.
The Poplar Gum yields a hard and closely grained timber, somewhat curly, but very durable. The heartwood is dark-coloured, usually a deep red. It is more-or-less subject to gum veins (pockets of gum in the timber, a natural protection response to injury) that can reduce the strength of the timber. Poplar Gum has been used over the years in all types of construction and engineering work, especially for fencing materials – it is excellent for using in damp places. As with many eucalypt timbers, it is a little too brittle to be good for turning.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008-2012
Page last updated 30th November 2016