A Tree Colors at Zoo Miami – The Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree
By Susana Cortázar
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know that much about trees. Which is why the first time my husband and I strolled through Zoo Miami’s Australia section and I pointed out the eucalyptus tree and mentioned how hard it must be for the zoo’s maintenance staff to keep it painted so brightly and meticulously, he looked at me like I was from another planet. It’s that Mars/Venus thing. Of course, he insisted it’s a real tree while I kept arguing that it was plastic and painted to look “Australian-y.” Like they say, that’s when the fight started. Turned out he was right. And hasn’t let me live it down.
Native to Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania, this beautifully “painted” tree is about as unique a tree as you will see. The bark is made up of colorful shades of green, orange, purple, brown, pink, and blue. No two tree patterns are alike; its canopy is spectacular and provides wonderful shade.
Photo by Susana Cortázar
According to Zoo Miami’s Supervisor of Horticulture Tom Trump, “this tree is mostly grown for ornamental purposes, due to the showy multi-colored streaks that cover the trunk. Patches of outer bark are shed annually at different times, showing the bright-green inner bark. This then darkens and matures to give blue, purple, orange and then maroon tones.” It is also cultivated around the world for the pulpwood used to make paper and for timber. “This tree is the main source of food for the koala, and is where it makes its home, usually just going to the ground to get to the next tree where there might be a mate,” states tree expert Bob Beck.
The rainbow eucalyptus does well under moist and dry conditions, and blooms in summer and fall. According to Beck, “the rainbow eucalyptus flowers are very inconspicuous; on older, very tall trees, they are practically unseen, except as a sort of white haze on the tree. This is only one of quite a few trees that can be in full bloom and not be noticed.” Which is a shame because when you look at the flowers up close, you can see they are beautiful white stamens with numerous flowered clusters.
The tree can grow between five to eight feet a year and can get as tall as 220 feet! The trunk can get as thick as six to eight feet around! Try putting your hands around that baby! And although they are big and powerful, these trees are “susceptible to powdery mildew and root rot, as well as crown gall and leaf spot,” according to Beck.
So during your next trip to Australia at Zoo Miami, make sure you don’t get into an argument with your companion whether the tree is real or plastic. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. And, yes, it’s real!
Photo by Susana Cortázar