Approximately 700 species of eucalyptus trees and shrubs exist predominately in Australia and Tasmania but a limited number of trees also occur in New Guinea, Timor and the Philippines. The species has been introduced into the United States in tropical and subtropical regions as an ornamental and high-yield timber crop. Certain species can grow to a towering height of 400 feet or more. The species hold significant economic importance around the world.
The early aborigines used the wood of the eucalyptus to fashion boats, spears, boomerangs and for firewood. Baron Ferdinand von Muller of Germany was the first to discover the believed healing and disinfectant properties of eucalyptus oil in the 1800s. During World War II the wood was used in the production of charcoal to operate trucks and other war machinery with special conversion engines. In the 1950s the oils derived from the eucalyptus were used in leather tanning and pulping.
The eucalyptus species comprises 85 percent of the forestland in Australia, according to Purdue University. They offer a rapid growth rate and produce an acceptable hardwood that is widely used in the production of furniture and flooring. It is also used in veneer production and structural construction. The wood holds a high economic value as a pulpwood where it is used in the production of fine writing and photocopy paper. Large timber plantations have been established in various parts of South America and its native home of Australia to grow the wood for export.
The properties of the eucalyptus has long been heralded as a medicinal aid. The oil harvested from the plant is commonly used in cold lozenges and other herbal remedies. It is also widely used for its antiseptic properties in lotions, ointments and as a herbal addition. It is marketed as additions to food supplements, sweets, lozenges, vapor baths, decongestants and cough syrups.
Some species of eucalyptus are being explored as an alternative fuel. The wood is under observation and testing to see if it holds any economic value in the production of ethanol. Eucalyptus produces an abundant amount of sugar which aids in fuel production. The wood is also planted in some regions of the world to be used predominately in the production of charcoal. It is widely used in Brazil in the production of iron and steel.
Potential for Reforestation
In certain regions of the world, such as California, the Eucalyptus globulus is being widely established on tree farms to help in reforestation and for its economic importance, according to Columbia University. The tree grows rapidly and quickly chokes out surrounding vegetation. Its ability to attain a towering height in a relatively short time makes it highly valuable in wood production for tree farms. The trees can easily reforest vast amounts of land that have suffered deforestation. The eucalyptus also provides a valuable wildlife refuge and food source. It also controls soil erosion.