Eucalyptus flooring the new ‘greenie’?

by Darren
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In attempts to identify even more green aspects of flooring, both the USA and European flooring industries seem to be bent on rapidly introducing eucalyptus as viable, environmentally friendly flooring.

Eucalyptus is best described as being somewhere between hardwood and bamboo in terms of hardness and environmental friendliness. All wood is sustainable if the forests are properly managed, but of course not all wood grows at the same rate.

Although it doesn’t compete with bamboo which can be harvested after five years, the 10-15 year growing period for eucalyptus is still far better than all the hardwood species. In appearance, it has a smooth and refined grain with the depth and shimmer of an exotic wood and is 65% harder than white oak.  

Originally native to Australia, eucalyptus is grown in more than 90 countries and is reputedly the world’s most widely planted hardwood. It represents 8% of all planted forests and also grows in hilly or semi-mountainous areas, thus relieving pressure on the flat-lying areas which would be better utilised as arable land. And because it grows much faster than other species of hardwood, it is a good choice for all kinds of uses, including flooring – truly sustainable and eco-friendly.

There are over 700 species of eucalyptus, and you might be surprised to learn that many common types of wood such as Mahogany, Iron bark, Jarrah, Saligna, Poplar gum, Tasmanian Oak and even the ubiquitous Blue gum are all actually types of Eucalyptus. So is Zimbabwe Teak.

Eucalyptus was introduced into South Africa as an exotic tree in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first experiments took place in arboretums, where Pinus and Acacia species were also tested. The commercial plantations were intensified from 1930 onwards, to meet the demand for wood destined for underground mining.

Eucalyptus grandis was the species developed for this purpose, known by the local population as ‘saligna gum’, because it was originally introduced as E.saligna, due to the similarity in the morphology of the trees of these two species.

In 1950, there was a forest base of 170 000 hectares of planted eucalyptus forests, amounting at present to approximately 580 000 hectares. From 1970 to 1990, the role of South African research and development for the genetic forest and classic eucalyptus breeding was fundamental, even influencing this type of research in Brazil with its technological achievements. At present, the emphasis of researching on forest improvements has been forest biotechnology, by means of centres of investigation like FABI and CSIR.

Practically the whole forest plantation base is distributed over the coastal region in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, as well as in the mountains of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The majority of the planted forests is certified (approximately 1,1 million hectares), the FSC being the dominant certification scheme.

Currently there is no local demand for eucalyptus flooring, and most of the forests in South Africa are used to meet the massive paper industry demand for pulp.

However, you might be interested to know that there are over 460 000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations in China. Be afraid. Be very afraid!

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for information obtained in the compilation of this article: www.forestry.co.za; www.eucalyptustree.com

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