Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

The eucalyptus trees of Phoenix, Arizona


I like trees. I look at them a lot, and I'm especially fascinated by eucalyptus trees, which are native to Australia. They grow extremely well in the Phoenix area, but I'd never seen them as a kid growing up in Minneapolis, because it's too cold there. If you had described a tree to me that never shed its leaves, but instead shed its bark, I would have thought you were describing something from Mars.

But these amazing trees are very real. And yes, many of them shed their bark, like the one in the pic up there. When I first saw them, here in Phoenix, I would walk up and touch the trunk. I still do. My weird behavior isn't understood by Phoenix locals, who grew up there, but visitors understand. And I will always be a visitor here, a stranger in a strange land.

Walk with me. The greater Phoenix area isn't a desert, it's a garden, an oasis. Water has been flowing through this valley for thousands of years, and in the last 100 years or so it's been channeled through canals that brought farmland, and trees. It was an amazing transformation.

When the Phoenix pioneers started bringing water into the valley in the 1870s, they immediately started experimenting to see what would grow. The idea, of course, was to make money by planting crops, and trees were added as windbreaks. A windbreak, by the way, is a row of trees that are planted along farmland to at least slow down the windiness. You know, so the dirt wouldn't all just blow away when the earth was plowed, and made bare. And one type of tree that was planted as a wonderful windbreak was the eucalyptus. Of course now in Phoenix trees as less utilitarian, and mostly used for aesthetic appeal ("curb appeal") and as something that would often get between me and the green on a golf course.

What the Phoenix pioneers found is that eucalyptus trees grew well. Maybe a little too well. They grew fast, which was good, but functionally they were a poor choice, as their branches easily break. So it does take much wind for these "windbreak" trees to break!

If you grew up in Phoenix, you've probably never been amazed at eucalyptus trees. I know a lot of locals who yawn at things that I find spectacular. I understand, it's just the background of life in Phoenix, nothing to get all excited about. But I'm still a visitor here, and I look at trees - especially eucalptus trees, of which there are many varieties represented in Phoenix.

Thank you for walking with me, and looking at eucalyptus trees.

Image at the top of this post: Camelback Golf Course in 1972, Scottsdale, Arizona, and eucalyptus trees. Gum trees.

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