Afforestation Mistakes #1 ‘Eucalyptus’

Image may contain: textTree plantation drives are a misnomer because we plant saplings and care for it for next  10-20 years for it to become a tree of the same value to environment. Still we fall for it and allow chopping of trees. The long wait makes humans look for easy way out  by planting quick growing invasive non native plants which don’t require care. This act is an environmental disaster because these plants kill the natural ecosystem of the region as well as dry up the land.

The hardy eucalyptus is one  such alien species blamed for drastic changes in ecology. Just take a long drive out  of city and you can see the miles of plantation lining both sides of our national highways. This implies how  successful successive governments have been in propagating this species since the 1960s. To maintain to tree felling and planting rate without much effort, one can always present the number of eucalyptus trees and get away with licence to cut more good trees.

One of the biggest problems with eucalyptus trees is their negative impact on the environment. They have replaced indigenous forests in several parts of the world, depleting food and shelter sources and therefore affecting animals and birds. Native to Australia, the eucalyptus thrives equally in dry soil or wetland, can withstand floods and freezing weather, and its seeds quickly take root after forest fires. The sturdy tree can re-grow even if cut at ground level.

Multiple ways it harms environment-

HazardThese hardy plants have delightfully scented, volatile oil in all parts of the plant. The tree sheds bark and dead leaves, which make a perfect pile of tinder under the tree too. On hot days eucalyptus oil vaporizes in the heat. The oil leaves a smoggy miasma hanging over the eucalyptus groves. This gas is extremely flammable and the cause of many wild fires. California forest fires are being blamed on large number of eucalyptus trees.

Phoenix Growth– Mythical Asura ‘Rakhtha Beej’ must have been attributed to this non native invader plant. According to scientists flammable eucalyptus trees evolved to be “fire friendly.” It catches fire rapidly  until there is no obvious tinder let  the plant to retain most of its trunk when fire moves on to find more to burn. The trunk then sprout new limbs and regenerate from buds buried deep in their inner bark. Another issue with eucalyptus is that when you chop one down, five grow back. They have adapted to dry, fire-prone climes. Fires actually help spread eucalyptus, by clearing out native trees.

Water Guzzlers -They have  become competitors to water for animal and human consumption because of their quick regeneration and huge size. They have been blamed for drying out many water sources across the globe.

A 3 year old tree drinks 20 litre of water a day, gradually consumption increase for a tree 20 year old up to 200 litre water a day

As we continue to plant eucalyptus they will spread fast and suck water from the soil, depriving other plants and drying out the ecosystem — making it more vulnerable to wildfires. Alternatively they are used to dry up water logged lands or marshes. Eucalyptus roots burrow into the earth at a rate of 2.5 m per year, about the same as the height to which the tree grows above ground.

In North India On marshy land and in low-lying areas close to riverbeds and lakebeds, eucalyptus was planted to dry out the land. They exist today also and we have also seen gradual drying up of ground water there.

In south India, on the other hand, the tree’s drying effect has led to calls for checking its cultivation. The Karnataka High Court asked the state forest department to consider banning eucalyptus plantations over worries of falling groundwater levels. In February 2014, the Madras High Court ordered the Tamil Nadu forest department to “annihilate” eucalyptus plantations along the Western Ghats.

This ban is not successful as I have found plantations of Eucalyptus all along the hilly highways of Nilgiri biosphere and western ghats. They may seem to be harmless but as rains become sparse and sparse they will be the only species surviving there. Chennai is facing acute water crisis when all the hill stations and catchment areas in Tamil Nadu have huge Eucalyptus plantations. The above photo is of the way to Ooty.

Biodiversity-Eucalyptus  has replaced indigenous forests in several parts of the world, depleting food and shelter sources and therefore affecting animals and birds. Being thin-leaved tree also means there are not as many nesting places for animals that inhabit them, such as mammals, birds and insects.  That same oil that makes the eucalyptus flammable also keep bugs from eating it. Oil is useful to us but there wont be bugs or animals helping to control the population of the eucalyptus.

Alleopathic -Other than starving neighbouring flora , Eucalyptus release into the environment substances acting as germination and growth inhibitors, this allelopathic effect disturbs all natural weeds, shrubs and other trees of growing under or near eucalyptus plantations killing biodiversity. This further makes land dry and barren as diversity keeps the soil nutrients balanced.

Absence of birds and insects-No birds sing in monoculture “Forests”. Much less birds nest in Eucalyptus plots. Absence of insects and butterflies is also noted in Eucalyptus forest Except for honey bees

Human Accidents-Eucalyptus trees  blow over easily. This is a huge problem in windy conditions. For this reason it’s a good idea to avoid planting eucalyptus trees too close to homes or businesses. Easy dropping  of branches is recognized a real danger to humans. Do never seek shelter or camp under eucalyptus trees.

Not looking at the facts we are still planning more and more disaster. No photo description available.


Nature Lover, Bangalore

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