Though it’s far from native to Southern California, we’ve noticed, since moving to Los Angeles, that eucalyptus can be found far and wide in LA and neighboring vicinities.
We’ve been personal fans of the tree/plant ever since that scene in season 1 of Lost when Sun helps Jack treat Shannon’s acute asthma by grinding up eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus oil has long had various practical uses, from acting as a solvent to a deodorizer to an insect repellent to an antiseptic. But initial research—and some empirical evidence from non-western cultures—shows the oil may also help to break down mucous in airways, allowing for easier breathing for sufferers of asthma.
Katie’s had asthma her whole life. When we were back in Brooklyn, the winters were especially tough, with both the frigid air outside and the reduced air quality indoors due to traditional steam radiators and (we think) the layers of lead paint on them. In addition to buying commercial eucalyptus oil at supplement stores, another thing we liked to do to stave off asthma attacks and, generally, promote better breathing, was to buy some freshly cut eucalyptus from the farmers’ market or flower shops, bundle it in twine, and hang it in our shower under the shower head. The resulting steam from a hot shower allows the oils to be released and, as an added bonus, gives off a pleasant scene to start your day.
Now that we’ve relocated to Los Angeles, we’ve noticed the tree—native to Australia—growing abundantly around town, evidently largely due to the efforts of famed tobacco tycoon, state forester from 1886-1888, and eucalyptus-lover Abbott Kinney. Better known as the developer of Venice, Kinney also championed the many potential uses of the plant in his time—chief among them, landscaping to shield from high winds and abundant erosion.
The tree enjoyed a massive boom in LA-area planting when projections were made about the fast-growing tree as a source of timber in hardwood-short times. Though the wood turned out to be unsuitable for that purpose (it evidently grows brittle, cracking and twisting as it dries), we’ll take the more medicinal and decorative aspects of the plant as welcome ones in our daily lives. Makes for some nice impromptu photos too.
Read LA writer Nathan Masters’ article “Who Eucalyptized Southern California” to find out more about eucalyptus’ history in Los Angeles. Below, from Masters’ article, “Two men demonstrate the girth of a 25-year-old eucalytpus tree on the L. J. Rose ranch in Rosemead, circa 1900.”, photo courtesy Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries.