General Discussions

Flora of Victoria

V2, Fig 199, p975

2. Practical problems.


2. The Mountain Grey Gum. In 1856 Ferdinand von Mueller (Victorian Government Botanist 1853-1873) named a specimen of a plant sent to him by a collector Eucalyptus goniocalix. When he subsequently met a tree known as "Mountain Grey Gum" he had said "Oh yes: that's the thing so and so sent me". In 1864 he named another Eucalyptus E. elaeophora, and this became known as "Bundy".

The mountain grey gum is a tall straight tree with excellent timber, and in the first half of the 20th century the name Eucalyptus goniocalyx was widely used in architectural specifications, building codes, and the like. But then in 1962 someone went to Europe to examine the type specimen, and decided that it wasn't the mountain grey gum at all, it was actually the bundy. As the name Eucalyptus goniocalyx had been given first it was the correct name for the bundy, leaving the mountain grey gum without a name, and he named it Eucalyptus cypellocarpa. Unfortunately the timber of the bundy is of inferior quality, meaning that all the specifications and trade descriptions now referred to firewood, with very serious ramifications in the forestry and building industries.

When Mueller identified the mountain grey gum, he may have checked the specimen against his type description, but probably this was ambiguous enough to match both species. The two species differ markedly in the size of the tree, the bark and the juvenile leaves (the mountain grey gum grows to 65m, with smooth yellowish, grey or white bark, while the bundy is a much smaller tree, growing to 15m with rough fibrous bark covering the whole trunk), and there are minor differences in the shape of the fruit and of the bud caps.

It is very likely that the original specimen consisted simply of a twig with some flowers and fruits, together with a rough description, so that von Mueller was not aware of the most important features distinguishing the two species when he wrote the original type description for E. goniocalyx.

While the decision to rename this species was in accordance with the strict rules of taxonomy, it made no sense whatever from a practical point of view. Everyone, including von Mueller, had been happy with the situation, and the pedantic decision to rename both species served only to cause a lot of unnecessary confusion and expense.

 © Roger Riordan 2004-2019