How did Eucalypts get their name?

By Jeff Howes

I knew the derivation of Eucalyptus was derived from the Ancient Greek words “eu” meaning “good,” “well,” “true,” “beautiful,” or “very,” and “kalyptus” meaning “cover,” “conceal,” or “hide,” referring to the operculum, which is a cap-like structure covering the flower buds.

What I never knew, however, was who was responsible for the name. I conducted some research and found my answers in a very readable paperback by Ashley Hay titled “Gum: The Story of Eucalyptus and Their Champions.” It was first published in 2002 by Duffy and Snellgrove and republished by New South Publishing in 2022.

Eucalyptus was not named by Joseph Banks, although he was the first to describe them in his journals as ‘gum’ trees. They were named and classified by Charles Louise L’Heritier de Brutelle, an amateur botanist interested in trees. He went to London to see Banks’ unexamined collection of 30,382 plants in 3,600 different species that were stored away in Banks’ grand house in Soho Square. L’Heritier examined a dried sample of a tree collected on Cook’s third voyage and realized it belonged to the same family as a myrtle and needed a new name. He could not think of anything Latin, so he turned to Greek. He called it Eucalyptus and the species “obliqua.”

Ashley’s book is a great read and highly recommended.