Giant Eucalyptus Trees Earn Rain Forest Stripes

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Australia's giant eucalyptus trees, the tallest flowering plants on earth, should be classified as a species of rain forest tree, a new study reports.

This was the conclusion drawn by David Bowman, a forest ecologist at the University of Tasmania in Australia and one the study's authors. He and his colleagues propose their idea in the current issue of the journal New Phytologist.

They did a comparative analysis with other rain forest trees and report that Eucalyptus regnans grows within the boundaries of Australia's rain forests, and shares traits with rain forest trees. In the past, the tree has been classified as unique vegetation in Australia because it has an unusual dependency on fire that allows it to outcompete other trees. Its seeds are protected from wildfires in aerial capsules, and after a fire they fall to the scorched ground and proliferate.

"These pathetic little seeds, the size of a pinhead, grow like Jack's beanstalk," Dr. Bowman said. "It's some of the fastest growth on earth, and then they can sit back and rule the forest until they die."

Rain forest trees generally are intolerant to shade and require open ground that is free of an overhead canopy for their seeds to germinate, Dr. Bowman said.

Although the eucalyptus depends on wildfires to create these circumstances, it too has these traits.

Classifying the species as a rain forest tree may help preserve the giant eucalyptus, which in recent years has been overharvested.

"It requires a shift in thinking," Dr. Bowman said. "Calling them rain forest trees might put people on better behavior."

science

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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