Trees of Australia Snow Gum

The Snow Gum belongs to the family of myrtles which have the taxonomical name of Myrtaceae. The snow gum is one of the eucalypts  – Eucalyptus pauciflora, pauciflora meaning ‘few flowers’ but that is a misnomer as the tree has a profuse and frequent display of beautiful, white flowers, highly attractive to bees and birds.

The Snow Gum is also known as the Cabbage Gum, Cabbage Ash, Weeping Gum and White Sallee.  There are several sub-species which are regarded by some botanists as separate species.

The Snow gum is a small tree or large shrub and is native to eastern Australia.  It has a wide distribution and is most common in the subalpine habitats, primarily in the Snowy Mountains. They occur in open woodlands between 1300 and 1800 metres in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales and mark the limit of the tree line. It is the most cold tolerant of the eucalypts and has been introduced into Norway. One of the sub-species, Eucalyptus niphophila can survive temperatures as low as -18°C.

Snow gums regenerate easily from seed, epicormic shoots below the back and from lignotubers. Lignotubers are large underground swellings which attach to the underground root system.  Lignotubers store carbohydrates and help young trees to regenerate after a fire. 

Eucalyptus pauciflora is a very slow grower but is also long-lived. Once they are established, the rate of growth increases a little. They have a fibrous root system and can be transplanted as large specimens. It is used locally for fence posts and firewood. It also has value in providing windbreaks and shade. It is a popular with apiarists, and eucalyptus oil is recognised as having many medicinal qualities. The large gum nuts make it attractive as a specimen tree. Eucalyptus trees have many medicinal qualities. Eucalyptus oil is recognised as an aid in easing congestion and muscle soreness, aiding digestion and preventing infection. Its essential oils are used in soaps and shampoos.

It is relatively adaptable appearing on mountain slopes, exposed ridge tops and tablelands. It withstands snow and ice but is also occasionally found almost at sea level. Although it prefers well-drained soil and colder areas, it can cope with shallow rocky soils, and both dry and wet locations.

Due to the adverse conditions of its natural environment, the tree normally grows only 10 to 20 metres and may be gnarled and twisted with a short, crooked bole. Only rarely does it grow to 30 metres with a nice, straight trunk. At high altitudes it is bushy and/or low and twisted from the buffeting it receives from the strong winds.

The numerous, twisting branches are most attractive. The bark is smooth and of varying colours from white to yellow and dark or light grey, although it may sometimes be a red-brown. The bark sheds in strips or patches leaving a smooth surface with a mottled appearance. The surface is often conspicuously marked with scribbles caused by insect larvae. The leaves are thick and waxy with many oil glands and a broad curving shape. The leaves are generally a broad lance shape with distinct lateral veins. Veins in the leaves are almost parallel to the midrib. The glossy, glistening leaves make the snow gum easily recognised. The snow gum does not lose its leaves in winter. With the weight of the snow, the boughs ‘weeps’ and bend lower and lower until eventually the snow falls to the ground.

The heartwood is a light pinkish brown with many gum veins. It is used locally for firewood and fence posts but has value as a shade- and shelter-tree as well.

The snow gum is one of many attractive eucalypt trees.