Update on Eucalyptus

In the May 24 edition of The Times’ Real Estate Section, Garden Editor Robert Smaus suggests hiding backyard utility poles with a variety of trees and shrubs (“How to Make That Utility Pole (Almost) Disappear”). These recommendations promote planting that not only may be illegal under California’s fire codes but that could also create hazardous, even deadly conditions should the utility lines arc.

The article urges readers to use eucalyptus trees to mask power poles. What it fails to recognize is that eucalyptus is not only a fire accelerant, it has also been blamed for spreading deadly firestorms in Oakland and, more recently, Harmony Grove/Carlsbad.

The oily leafed tree is a fire accelerant that can literally explode in flames when touched by sparks.

There is more to consider in masking power poles than beauty. There is also the very serious issue of fire safety.


Utility companies are not alone in opposing careless gardening practices. Firefighters and insurance companies urge homeowners to carefully plant fire-resistant trees and shrubs a safe distance from roofs, power lines and other combustibles to protect not only their homes but also their families’ lives.


Regional Director

Western Insurance


Information Service


Smaus replies: There are more than 500 species of eucalyptus, ranging from graceful treelets barely as tall as a man to giants like the 200-foot blue gum Eucalyptus globulus.

The huge, brittle, messy blue gum is responsible for knocking down power lines and contributing to fires, and no one recommends planting this tree in our backyards.


Some eucalyptus are even on Southern California Edison’s list of approved plants for hiding power poles, specifically the red-flowering gum, Eucalyptus ficifolia. It grows slowly and manageably to about 20 feet and is as different from a blue gum as can be, yet they are both eucalyptus.

Some eucalyptus are even on official lists of plants for fire areas, including a list published by the state in response to the Oakland fire.

Let’s not mix up the baby with the bath water and toss them both out of our gardens. Many eucalyptus are first-rate garden plants.