The eucalyptus flower blossoms from a genus of blooming trees and shrubs in the myrtaceae family. There are about 700 species in this large genus, most of which can be found growing in Australia, but may also be seen in areas of Indonesia and New Guinea. Although eucalyptus plants are generally prized for their aromatic leaves, the actual flowers are considered very distinctive and appealing in their own right. The heads of these blooms do not bear separate petals, but – in their early stages – consist of an operculum, which is a cap made up of fused petals or sepals which cover a mass of stamens. In later stages, the cap will pull back and reveal these stamens, which develop a fluffy texture, and may be seen in hues of red, yellow, cream and white. Aside from the eucalyptus perriniana and the eucalyptus cinerea trees, most species will not begin flowering until their foliage reaches a mature stage.
The name eucalyptus was given to this plant around the year of 1777, when David Nelson brought back a specimen of eucalypt – a common title that is shared between three similar genera of eucalyptus – which he discovered in southern Tasmania. Upon seeing this plant, French botanist Charles L’Héritier de Brutelle named the plant eucalyptus obliqua from the Greek root words eu and calyptos, meaning “well covered.” The Greek root words were used to describe the flower’s operculum, while obliqua was derived from the Latin word “oblique,” which is a reference to an asymmetrical leaf formation. The eucalyptus flower and its tree are all said to be very useful. It is well known that the leaves of these trees can be used to create a strong medicinal oil that has been used by Australian Aborigines for many centuries. This oil is said to be a potent disinfectant, antifungal and antibacterial, and is also frequently used to sooth and treat a number of respiratory ailments, including asthma, bronchitis and common chest colds. The flowers themselves are said to be very important to common pollinators, and produces a rich, slightly menthol-flavored honey, which is also said to be very healthful. The properties of this honey are actually quite similar to those of the oil; however, this mildly-sweet syrup can be taken both internally and externally, and can be used for nearly everything – from respiratory troubles to arthritis.
Given its history and its many medicinal uses, it is not surprising to find that the eucalyptus flower and tree are symbols of both protection and healing. As a gift, these flowers are frequently given as “get well” gifts, or to show the giver’s desire to shield the recipient from harm. Although these blossoms make great and unusual gifts all by themselves, it would not be a bad idea to include not only an arrangement of flowers, but an entire gift basket of eucalyptus-themed products, such as the oil and honey.