Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Sir,--As many of your readers are interested in this species which appears to be grown in all parts of England and Scotland and to prove perfectly hardy everywhere, a few particulars as to its range and variation in its native country will no doubt be acceptable.
Mr. J. H. Maiden, Curator of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney, has kindly sent me a copy of a paper upon the species, from which I glean the following facts.
It ranges through Tasmania, the original type being from the cold mountain districts, but it also occurs on the lowlands.
In Victoria it is found on the summits of the higher mountains; and in New South Wales on many of the mountains up to 5,000 feet or 6,000 feet above the sea-level; but in both colonies varieties are found in the lowlands. It is also found in the eastern part of South Australia, but not in West Australia, as has been erroneously stated owing to a mistake of one of the older writers.
Mr. Maiden thinks that this species is the most protean of all the Eucalypti, and he gives a list of twenty varieties of it which have been described by various botanists as distinct species. Hardly any of its characters are constant. In stature, colour and surface-texture of the bark, shape and colour of the leaves, shape of the fruit and of the operculum, and form of the inflorescence, it varies greatly, but there are always intermediate forms connecting one variety with another indicating that all are the varying forms of a single species.
Still more extraordinary is the very wide range in stature of the various forms in different localities. In the mountains it occurs generally as a shrub or small tree, reaching to about 40 feet in sheltered positions, while in the lowlands it often attains to a large and sometimes a gigantic size. One of the forms of the variety, E. stuartiana, is said to be near 100 feet high in the south-eastern ranges of Australia, where it is called "White Gum," but another writer calls this same variety a "Red Gum," and says that it attains "an enormous size in Victoria, perhaps only surpassed by the Eucalyptus amygdalina and the Karri of West Australia." But the following account by Rev. T. J. Ewing, in the Proc. of the Royal Society of Van Dieman's Land, 1851, is both precise and extraordinary. Speaking of the "Swamp Gum" of Tasmania, he says:--"One about 40 yards from the biggest was 60 feet in circumference at 4 feet from the ground, and at 130 feet must have been fully 40 feet round; it was without buttresses and went up in one solid massive column without the least symptoms of decay. . . . The largest we measured was, at 3 feet from the ground, 102 feet in circumference, and at the ground 130 feet. We had no means of estimating its height, so dense was the neighbouring forest, above which however it towered in majestic grandeur." On this Mr. Maiden remarks:--"The above magnificent trees were in the vicinity of the North-West Bay River, and if correctly described as Swamp Gum are probably E. Gunnii var. acervula."
That any variety of E. Gunnii, always considered to be one of the smaller species, should be also one of the largest, and not only so but one of the most gigantic trees in the world, equalling the finest specimens of the Californian Sequoia gigantea, seems very remarkable, but the same variety occurring on the coast of New South Wales is described as being "one of the largest trees of these parts," which renders it quite possible that the enormous Tasmanian specimens are truly identified as forms of the same species.
The local names by which the varieties of E. Gunnii are known are even more numerous and more puzzling than those of the botanists. "Red Gum," "White Gum," "Black Gum," "Swamp Gum," "Blue Gum," "Hickory," "Apple," "Cabbage Gum," "Yellow Gum," "Ribbony Gum," "Spotted Gum," and "Candle Bark" are some of these, and are a good indication of the uselessness of such names, which only tend to confusion and error.
Mr. Maiden's paper is evidently written only for botanists, and especially for Australian botanists; hence it is very technical, and many details which would be of great interest to English cultivators are only incidentally mentioned. Two points may be here referred to. Some of the forms are said to produce "manna," and the following is quoted as to an exhibit in the Paris Exhibition of 1855 by Mrs. John (afterwards Lady) Hay, as being "manna" from a tree believed to be E. Gunnii var. rubida. "It is found in considerable quantities in many tracts, generally rather upland, scattered under the trees from which it exudes." But nothing is told us of the nature of this substance, whether it is edible or is used in any way by Europeans.
In Tasmania trees of the type first described by Sir Joseph Hooker are called "cider trees," and to one specimen collected by Mr. Gunn is appended the note--"A tree yielding rich cider." But again we are not told how this cider is made, or whether it is really used as a beverage by residents in Tasmania. It would be very interesting to obtain seed of these "manna" and "cider" yielding trees from the greatest elevations at which they grow; and if they have any of the hardy character of the varieties usually grown in this country it would give an additional charm to the cultivation of Eucalyptus Gunnii.