I’m in the final stages of writing my mystery novel, which takes place in Silicon Valley. Eucalyptus trees appear frequently in my writing. They’re kind of my muse. When I want some inspiration, I go for a walk and breathe in the deep, menthol scent. It’s intoxicating, especially after it rains.
On my morning hikes along the Los Gatos Trail, I often see the scythe-like leaves and long peels of eucalyptus bark littering the path. Obviously rubbish from some wild picnic the trees hold at night when we human aren’t around!
But that litter can be extremely dangerous. Eucalyptus trees, with their high oil content, can actually explode at high temperatures. In 1991, a devastating firestorm swept through the Oakland-Berkeley Hills. The National Park Service estimates that 70 percent of the fire’s fuel came from the dense eucalyptus forests in the area.
Eucalyptus trees are not native to California. Australian miners brought them over during the gold rush. Happy in this climate, the trees multiplied like rabbits, and this was encouraged further by a state forestation project in the early 1900s. In the 1970s, however, a movement began to remove them in favor of plants native to California.
The movement was not successful–thankfully. That seductive eucalyptus smell will always be Northern California to me.