Eucalyptus trees are known for their fast growth and use in a variety of soothing, aromatic products. It’s no wonder the City of Escondido’s decision to remove 17 Eucalyptus trees from Grand Ave’s center median was met with backlash on social media. Most Californians don’t know that these same trees can cause many problems, both in a native and commercial landscapes. According to city officials, the trees’ weak branches were not just a liability, but were showing signs of illness. Many expressed concern over the city’s spending while others were saddened by a loss of history and nature.
While it’s true that these trees have been a part of Escondido’s recent history, many people forget that the city’s natural history goes well beyond the Eucalyptus forests introduced in the 1900’s. In fact, the removal of the trees cleared the view of an iconic Escondido landmark, Bottle Peak, located in Escondido’s eastern skyline. The direct line view Grand Ave creates to Bottle Peak makes it hard to believe that road was put there by accident when Escondido’s founders were designing city streets. Bottle Peak is now part of a 400-acre nature preserve set aside for local wildlife by The Escondido Creek Conservancy and the County of San Diego. Now that the view to Bottle Peak has been re-revealed we are reminded of a symbol of southern California’s natural history which is all too often forgotten.
One of the most aromatic of plant communities is southern California’s coastal sage scrub, containing over 17 types of soothing sage species. These scented plants have been used for centuries by Native Americans in teas and medicines. And let’s not forget about our coast live oaks whose gnarled branches and spiny green leaves provided acorns for people and wildlife in our native oak woodlands. And how could we forget about our native willows that line California’s riparian habitats. It was from these very native trees that aspirin and other medicines were made. All of these native species are found on Bottle Peak.
Eucalyptus are one of the first species to be removed in a native plant restoration because of its invasive tendencies. The name Eucalyptus, comes from the Greek word eu-, “well”, and kaluptos, “cover”, meaning “well-covered” which describes its shallow root systems that extend over a broad surface area. This not only makes it susceptible to falling over in high Santa Ana winds, but it also threatens surrounding plants as it absorbs a large amount of nutrients and water from the surface, in effect taking up real estate that otherwise would support native plants. Eucalyptus are also extremely flammable, adding to fire risk. Escondido may have lost a small part of its history with the removal of the Eucalyptus trees but we also must understand the trouble these trees have brought to California and its natural environment. We hope the City and the downtown business district embraces its natural roots and preserves the view to Bottle Peak as the city founders intended.