Blue Gum Eucalyptus: Shade Tree or Giant Weed?

Tree that caused death in Newport Beach under renewed scrutiny

A type of tree in Orange County that collapsed and killed a woman last week is being called a dangerous invader by some naturalists.

The blue gum eucalyptus has a long history in California, but as one article in Audubon Magazine put it, the plant is "an incendiary tree."

The January 2002 article went on to say that fire doesn't kill the trees -- rather they depend on fire to open their seedpods and clear out competitors. But blue gum eucalyptus trees don't just burn, they explode, according to the article.

The trees helped fuel the deadly Oakland fire in 1991, which burned more than 3,000 homes and killed 25 people.

Firefighters view these trees as little "oil" factories with shreds of hanging bark that carry flames to the crown.

They are native to Australia and were introduced to California in the mid-nineteenth century, in part because the railroad companies needed timber for railroad ties.

Ecologists and naturalists consider it a giant weed and gross invader that moves in to wipe out native species of trees.


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Up until last week, however, most of the fatalities directly attributed to the blue gum eucalyptus were from people who ingested large doses of its oil.

As a result of the Sept. 15 incident that killed Haeyoon Miller, 29, about 100 eucalyptus trees are being removed, according to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa city officials.

The Tustin woman was stopped at a red light on Irvine Avenue when the tree fell from the center median, crushing her car and killing Miller. The collision happened at the border of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

"They're really beautiful trees," said Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff. "But when the public safety is compromised, I don't think we can do anything but remove them."

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