Farewell to the Big Euc

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The familiar sign-off to announcements of DMV Neighbors Association-sponsored cleanup days along Temescal Creek - ÒMeet at the big eucalyptus at the corner of Cavour and RedondoÓ - will change soon. As I write, the city is in process of removing the venerable giant. While it's sad for many reasons, the tree is diseased, damaged, and dangerous. Over the past couple of years, huge limbs have fallen on the lawn and adjacent trees, and the nearby sidewalk has just about been destroyed by the tree's roots.

So how did the tree get there in the first place? And how did it get so big? Eucalypts are Australian natives, and were originally introduced into California in the 1850s as garden ornamentals. By the 1870s several varieties were being imported and sold, both for decorative plantings and as lumber trees. Most of the eucalypts in the East Bay hills were planted early in the 20th century, in some areas to replace logged-off redwoods and in others to take advantage of open space.

This particular tree may have been purposefully planted for lumber or firewood. Or it may have arrived via a seed pod washed downstream from the eucalyptus groves in Claremont Canyon. Eucalyptus pods float, and one could have reached a disturbed spot by the original Temescal Creek during winter high water, dried out, released its tiny seeds, and birthed our big tree. Or it could be a sprout from a vanished older euc.

Eucalyptus trees are prodigious water consumers; some varieties, if well-watered, can grow 20 to 40 feet in a year. In the 80 or so years since the Cavour eucalyptus sprouted, it's had ample water and time to grow into a giant. The fast growth hasn't necessarily been good for the health of the tree. The people who planted the first trees soon discovered that California-grown eucalyptus wood cracks and splits, and is suitable only for firewood. The splits, especially where the limbs meet the tree, collect moisture and create decay. Eventually the limbs break away and fall.

Last year, city staff noticed growths called conk at the base of the tree, indicators of rot and decay. The tree was test-drilled, and city arborist Mitch Thomson found evidence of rot, meaning the tree must be removed. Davey Tree was hired to cut back limbs within 10 feet of power lines (Oakland staff may not work so close to the lines), and city tree services crews will finish taking down the tree. Oakland Public Works is herbicide-free, so will use a stump grinder to prevent the roots from re-sprouting. Work is expected to be completed in early February.

Much as the tree is a beloved neighborhood landmark, it has reached the end of its useful life. We'll miss it (although not its messy bark and dropped leaves volunteers have dealt with on past cleanup days) but look forward to what this corner of the Greenbelt might look like in the future.