Fires rage across Australia as I write. Heartbreaking photos of animals trying to flee and towns decimated by the wildfires show the terrible devastation. Both loss of life and acts of great heroism are in the news. At least 10,000 square miles in New South Wales are burned to date.
Eucalyptus forests are particularly vulnerable because they contain essential oils with a low flash point. Essential oils are volatile by nature, which means they have very tiny molecules. They are so small that they are suspended in the air around plants with especially large percentages of smaller terpenes. That is the aroma we smell. If you have ever seen pictures of the Smokey Mountains, that grayness is the veil of essential oils hovering over the trees. Every essential oil has a flash point – the temperature that can ignite an oil. Eucalyptus has a flash point of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That is relatively low. Tea tree, also found in New South Wales, has a flash point of 138. Having forests rich in eucalyptus and tea tree makes them especially vulnerable.
The severe drought and fires are going to have lasting consequences for these plants and the ecosystems they support. Eucalyptus can grow in dry areas as well as rain forests, but the devastation of rain forest eucalyptus is more serious, as it is rare.
We should all pray for Australia, that the rains would come, the fires put out, and the people and animals could have their homes again.