Australia is home to an enormous variety of Eucalyptus trees, which can grow to over 40 metres in height. Although they are naturally beautiful and house many species of Australian fauna, including koalas and possums, they can be a danger to humans in populated areas.
Giant eucalypts have a habit of dropping heavy branches earning them the nickname of Widow Maker. These gum trees preserve their health during periods of drought or inadequate water supply by allowing some branches to dry out and break off – a sort of self pruning.
As an increasing number of roads, buildings, concrete slabs and paths and other plants limit the availability and access to water for these tree giants, our suburban areas are particularly susceptible to the antics of the Widow Maker. The large trees are competing for water, as development channels rainwater into drains, instead of leaving it available to our native flora. Construction is limiting root growth and even damaging the existing root system, so that these trees are not able to absorb the amount of water required to maintain the health of the crown of the tree. Where there is not enough water, the tree will create blockages to certain branches in order to preserve the health of the rest of the tree. It’s a bit like losing weight for a human, and quite literally results in losing weight for the tree, because the branch eventually breaks off.
Huge branches falling from 30 or 40 metres to the ground can do some real damage, and there have been recorded incidents of death to people due to this – hence the nickname. Damage to cars and buildings is common during storms or strong wind. Councils regularly engage the services of arborists to prune back gum trees in public areas. It is a necessary, tree maintenance where Eucalypts are concerned.
It is important to check on the health of any gum trees on your property and ensure any branches posing a threat to property or areas used by people, are removed safely by experienced arborists. Branches which appear to be dying should be removed. Early signs of this process is discolouring and loss of foliage. Eventually the wood on the branch will appear dry and brittle.
Despite their nickname, Eucalypts are still very much protected in Sydney, and enhance the beauty of the suburban landscape. Check with your council before organising the lopping or pruning of any Gum tree.