Eucalypt in English, Eucalipto in Portuguese.
This is, as you can see, a dead and dried branch, part of the landscape now. In fact, I decided to include an extra photo just so you can see what I’m talking about (part of that has already been burned in a controlled manner by my neighbours, a few days after I took the photos). It’s like this everywhere. What happened? Well, many things. First, Portugal has been replacing farmland and native forest by Eucalyptus plantations since the 80s, sponsored by the state and fueled by the demands of the paper industry. Our “green oil” as it was once called by a minister, alluding to its economical value (also like oil, it burns very well and destroys our ecosystem, but none of that was a concern at the time). Second, the process was completely unregulated and suddenly you had entire villages in the middle of one big, messy and chaotic Eucalyptus plantation, with branches touching the houses and no signs of any attempt at spatial planning. Third, we have always had a problem with forest fires, a problem that was arguably made worse by the flammable Eucalyptus and certainly made much worse by climate change. Last year, all of the above + severe drought + atypical weather = the whole country ablaze and 111 deaths. What you see here is part of a desperate attempt to correct 30 years of mistakes within a few months, in time to avoid another deadly summer.
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Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
I went to Portugal as a kid once, and I remember these. They smelled nice, but my parents made me aware back then of how unhealthy such a plantation was.
BTW, #1’s name stems back from that holiday.
I remember, when I was a sprog in SoCal, someone had a whole lot of blue gums delivered, and they were planted for miles along a highway. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any consideration of the Santa Ana winds, or fire season. Those things went up like torches. That was the end of the Eucalyptus experiment.
I remember forrests of those next to cork-oaks in the hills in the algarve region. Wonderful in the spring. But all brown and black in the fall.
But always smelling great.
They do have a nice smell, with the notable exception of when they are on fire. My village managed to escape, but through most of summer we were surrounded and pretty much suffocating in thick smoke.
Unfortunately ours never ended and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end. Just after the fires there were scientists on TV explaining the problem, but they were quickly followed (and silenced) by representatives of the cellulose industry saying “We mustn’t demonize the Eucalyptus! Think of the jobs! Think of the economy! Eucalyptus do not start fires, people do!” Yeah right. We had a fire-adapted Mediterranean forest and now we have a fucking mess, but that’s not a problem, oh no. Cork oaks burn just like Eucalyptus, don’t you know (no they don’t).
Cork oaks will show up too further down the alphabet. :)
I still have memories of the ’91 fire storm in Oakland, CA, fueled in part by residential hills planted in eucalyptus. Mostly I remember not just because it was everywhere on the news, but because fire crews from my region some 350 miles away were pulled to go help. Eucalyptus are lovely and useful plants, but under the wrong conditions, they’re nightmare fuel.
Ice Swimmer says
Nightjar @ 4
The jobs argument is a bit thin. Paper and pulp mills employ relatively few people (In Finland, something like 120 -- 150 for a 650 to 1300 thousand tonnes/year pulp mill and a bit over 500 for a 1 million tonnes/year paper mill, both are total head counts). Logging can also be mechanized so that it doesn’t employ that many people (not sure about the number). Also, AFAIK, cork is in a short supply.
Diverse ecosystems featuring a multitude of Eucalyptus species amongst others is one thing, planting monocultures of one species cheek by jowl is another thing entirely. Unfortunately, some humans have a habit of not understanding ecology when profits are involved. Around here, natural Eucalyptus regions are managed by seasonal cool burns, not that it is possible to manage all the areas every year due to a lack of time and resources. Caine put up the series of pictures of mine, starting at Fire & Rain.
You are quite right, the jobs are not that many, at least not to justify that kind of threat. From a quick search it seems the three major paper and pulp companies in Portugal employ a little over 4 thousand people. But the lobby here is huge. I’m saving cork for another letter, but basically the problem is that if you plant cork oaks now, you won’t have any return for the first 30 years and that’s the best case scenario, so there’s not much interest in investing in new plantations. We should be investing more in stuff like cork, chestnuts, olive oil, pine nuts, strawberry fruit… and it would probably be more profitable in the long term, but as you know short term profits always win in the end.
Your pictures are beautiful, thanks for pointing them to me, I hadn’t seen them. And you are exactly right. The problem is that the Eucalyptus doesn’t belong in our ecosystems at all and yet 25% of our “forest” now consists of eucalyptus monocultures!
Eucalypts are extremely well adapted for fire -- many species of them actually encourage it*, survive it and germinate and it plays a key role in the species evolving and spreading and taking over most Australian ecosystems millions of years ago. Australia’s Indigenous People’s have used fire as a tool in clearing and shaping the landscape for 50,000 years plus further shaping these generally eucalypt based ecosystems -- at least the woodland and forest ones. They’ve also been able to do it in very specific ways to get the exact results they wanted, eg. mosaic patches of clear areas with regrowth for luring kangaroos etc ..
No w our ecosystems have been invaded by weeds including olive sand feral pines which cause huge fire hazard issues here because they burn differently and very well -even better than eucalypts in some cases. So, yeah.
@1. Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk : I would have imagined that Portugal’s climate and ecosystem would be pretty fire-adapted and tough too? Not with Eucalypts but with their indigenous flora community so surprised that they’d make that much difference.
(Cork oaks are awesome trees -- got some in Belair National Park which are magnificent even though exotic being planted decades before conservation and planting and growing our native vegetation became a thing and when there was a (mistaken) movement to “europeanise” Australia.
@2. Caine : Those blue gums (E. leucoxylon I presume?) didn’t regrow or set seed -- or were they taken out?
* Not just with the flammable oils for instance Manna Gum / Ribbon -Bark Eucalytpus viminalis has bark that peels and hangs from the tree in such a way as to lead fire into its canopy -- that one is also the koala’s favourite species. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptus_viminalis) Almost all the local species have lignotubers and/or epicormic (under trunk) buds that allow the trees to regenerate after bushfires. Not sure what species the one here is, sorry.
Typoo fix for clarity :
Now our ecosystems have been invaded by weeds including olives and feral pines ..
Also plenty of other weeds which is one of my main activities in volunteer bushcare mainly from South Africa (Boneseed, Chrysanemoides moniifera, South African Daisy,, Senecio pterophorus, Monadenia (Disa bractyeatum) or European (Olive Olea europaea, Montpellier Broom Genista monspessulana, Gorse, Ulex europaeus -my personal least favourite!) So if you think our weeds have invaded your nation and caused problems then you’ve certainly had your revenge on our ecosystems here FWIW!
They do make a difference and I think the problem is that Mediterranean and Australian fires have very different characteristics. Eucalypts are active pyrophytes, as you say, they encourage fire to spread. On the other hand, the vast majority of our pyrophytes are passive ones, they resist fire but some are more fire-abators than fire-spreaders, so to speak. Eucalypt-fueled fires seem to be too intense for our native species to handle, and even in terms of scale, they burn way too much area for what a forest fire fueled by Mediterranean flora would. And then, well, you have the problem of monocultures that kind of makes it all much worse.
That is fascinating. I’ve seen that peeled bark hanging from some trees but had no idea that was what it was for!
I think they are Eucalyptus globulus, but I’m not sure either.
Oh, I know, Australia’s ecosystems are perhaps the ones which have suffered the most with our tendency to shuffle species around the world. I don’t see it as a revenge though… in both cases Europeans are the ones to blame!
Oh my, I only realized now what this is, I wouldn’t wish that as an invasive weed on anyone! Incidentally they are one of the few native species that don’t seem to mind the Eucalypts here, they grow just as well beneath them.
Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
And probably happily add to the fire hazard. A match (no pun intended) made in hell.
@ Nightjar & Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- : Thanks.
Yes, monocultures are definitely a problem and European colonisation has a lot to answer for here. Figures too that Gorse would be the only thing to grow under the feral gums. :-(