Eucalyptus are among the tallest trees in the world, making the term "small eucalyptus" seem like an oxymoron. Commonly called gum trees, most eucalyptuses --- such as the Eucalyptus regnans "mountain-ash" --- tower over the landscape at heights of up to 250 feet. Happily for the home gardener, smaller varieties coexist among the more than 700 species of these Australian giants.
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The World's Smallest Eucalyptus Trees
In 2006, Professor Stephen Hopper, director of Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in Australia, and Luke Sweedman, curator of the Western Australian Seed Technology Centre, discovered a low-growing shrub in southwest Australia. Eucalyptus sweedmania "Sweedman's mallee" grows only about 3 feet high. It is noted for its ability to survive frequent brush fires, then grow back from its remaining rootstock. Before this discovery, the smallest known eucalyptus tree was Eucalyptus vernicosa "Varnished-leaf Gum." This dwarf variety also rarely grows taller than 3 feet. But it spreads up to 16 feet in diameter.
Mallees are eucalyptus plants that grow as shrubs, with multiple stems sprouting from the ground. Australian Plants Online, the website of the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants, recommends green mallee-ashes for suburban yards. The site singles out Eucalyptus cunninghamii "Cliff Mallee Ash," which grows to about 6 feet in the wild, but may double this height in a domesticated environment. The Cliff Mallee Ash features grey bark that sheds in ribbons, glossy green --- somewhat blue --- long, narrow leaves and an autumn burst of creamy white flowers.
Snows Gums and Ashes
Eucalyptus gregsoniana "Wolgan Snow Gum" grows to about 10 feet. This cold-hardy tree is a fast grower. Its smooth, white trunk supports red stems and weeping leaves. Cream flowers cover the tree in early summer. Eucalyptus luehmanniana "yellow-top mallee-ash" is widely considered the most ornamental of all eucalyptus trees. This endangered species features a smooth, silver trunk; weeping clusters of large, blue leaves, and sizeable, creamy flowers. It flourishes in rocky or well-drained areas. Cultivated specimens grow from 13 to 20 feet tall.
Mallee-box species of eucalyptus also are recommended by Australian Plants Online. Eucalyptus viridis "Green Mallee" is an attractive tree that grows 23 to 30 feet tall. This mallee thrives in hot, dry areas and heavy clay soil. Its profuse white blooms attract birds in summer. Another mallee-box, Eucalyptus froggattii "Kamarooka Mallee," is an endangered tree that can grow to almost 40 feet in nature, but rarely grows this tall in a cultivated setting. The tree's large, leathery leaves are green and lustrous. Eucalyptus landsdowneana --- with its abundant crimson flowers, large green leathery leaves and compact growing habit --- is the most ornamental of the mallee-box varieties.
Some new species have been cultivated in recent years to meet the demand for eucalyptus trees that are viable options for the home garden. Corymbia ficifolia "red flowering gum" grows about 10 feet tall by 10 feet wide. It was propagated using grafts from mature trees to achieve specific colours. Dwarf Orange and Dwarf Crimson are spectacular specimens.
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- Australian Plants Online; Small Gums for Small Gardens; Brian Walters; September 2003
- Australian Plants Online; Small-Growing Eucalypts; Kevin Rule; December 1996
- Kew News; Knee-High Eucalyptus Discovered in SW Australia; December 2009
- Yarralumla Nursery: Small Eucalypts for Canberra Gardens
- Future Plants by Randy Stewart; Eucalyptus; January 2010