Birth of the Eucalypts – thanks to a Frenchman

Eucalyptus obliquaThe Eucalyptus is considered the quintessential Australian tree and we assume its always been that way – indeed the plant has but the name hasn’t.

When Captain James Cook first set foot here in 1770 whilst mapping the east coast of Terra Australis, he and his crew took a large amount of plants and plant samples back to Kew Gardens in London.  But as exciting as these new finds were, due to lack of resources, many of them remained purely on display for the botanical intelligentsia to oggle at.

Cooks LandingOne of them was a Frenchman, an amateur botanist by the name of Charles-Louis L’Heritier de Brutelle, a follower of the English Linnaean system of plant classification.  He published hundreds of papers on new plants in his lifetime and due to his friendship with Joseph Banks came to London to see these fascinating plants from the Great Southern Land.

L’Heritier became obsessed with one particular specimen which had remained unclassified – a strange tree with grey/green sabre shaped foliage.

Eucalyptus obliqua

Eucalyptus obliqua

He described the curious casing around its flower buds in Greek :- ‘Eu’ meaning ‘well’, ‘calyptos’ meaning covered.  The slanting, assymetrical foliage was described as obliqua.

In 1778 the Eucalyptus obliqua was named as the very first in this exciting new genus – not thanks to Joseph Banks as many would have assumed – but a Frenchman . . and we say, ‘merci beaucoup monsieur.