A tree to about 100 ft in the wild and as much or more in cultivation, but in unfavourable habitats it is found as a small, stunted tree; bark smooth, shed in large flakes, pale green or creamy white when freshly exposed, ageing to dark grey or greyish brown; branchlets glaucous or green, smooth or somewhat wrinkled. Juvenile leaves opposite, stalkless, broadly elliptical to orbicular, 1 to 13⁄4 in. long, glaucous or green; adult leaves alternate, stalked, lanceolate to ovate, 13⁄5 to 3 in. long, 3⁄5 to 12⁄5 in. wide, glaucous or green. Flowers borne in autumn in usually three-flowered umbels; buds stalkless or almost so; calyx-tube cylindrical or slightly urn-shaped, operculum shorter than the calyx-tube and hemispherical or conical. Fruits green or glaucous, cylindrical to campanulate, ovoid or slightly urn-shaped, with the valves usually enclosed.
Native of Tasmania, found in marshy situations on the central plateau, where it forms subalpine woodland, often in association with Athrotaxis selaginoides; discovered in 1840 and introduced not long after. It is a variable species in such characters as the colouring of the leaves and fruit, which may be green or glaucous, and in the shape of the latter. There is also some variability in hardiness, as might be expected of a species that grows in a broken mountain terrain from 2,000 to 3,500 ft. But of all the arborescent eucalypts that have been widely enough planted for any firm judgement to be made, E. gunnii has so far proved to be the hardiest.
Many of the trees cultivated in this country descend from the famous tree (blown down a few years ago) that grew at Whittingehame in East Lothian, a few miles from the North Sea. It was probably planted in 1853 and measured 96 × 193⁄4 ft in 1957. Its seed and seedlings were widely distributed and seem to have proved uniformly hardy. It has been suggested that it was a hybrid with E. urnigera, but Maiden – in his day the foremost authority on the genus – considered it to be typical E. gunnii. Another important source of seed is the planting at Brightlingsea, Essex, near the Colne estuary; this was made by Thomas Bateman around 1887 and probably raised from seed received from the Estancia Negrete in S. Argentina. Many trees of this planting still exist at Brightlingsea, and an account of them will be found in Gard. Chron., Nov. 23, 1963.
The following are the largest specimens of E. gunnii recorded in recent years: Trebah, Cornwall, 110 × 113⁄4 ft (1959); Sidbury, Devon, pl. 1890, 75 × 131⁄2 ft (1959); Sheffield Park, Sussex, pl. 1912, 90 × 101⁄2 ft (1968); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 77 × 12 ft (1965); Castle Kennedy, Wigtown, 90 × 111⁄2 ft (1967). A tree at Kew near the Pagoda, raised from Whittingehame seed and planted in 1896, blew down in 1963. There is another by the Unicorn Gate, probably from the same source and planted at the same time, which measures 60 × 5 ft (c. 1965).
E. glaucescens Maiden & Blakely E. gunnii var. glauca Deane & Maiden Tingiringi Gum. – This species, of recent introduction, makes a mallee or small tree to about 40 ft high; bark white when first exposed, darkening to grey; young stems reddish brown, covered with a silvery bloom. Juvenile foliage brilliantly silver-glaucous. Adult leaves glaucous, rather thick and leathery, up to 5 in. long and 4⁄5 in. wide. Buds and fruit both glaucous, the latter barrel-shaped, with a truncate base. It is a native of New South Wales and Victoria at high altitudes. Only recently introduced, it promises to make a hardy and very ornamental tree of moderate size.
E. perriniana Rodway E. gunnii var. montana Hook. f. Spinning Gum. – A small tree of the mallee type growing to about 20 ft high in the wild state, with a deciduous brownish and grey bark. Juvenile leaves glaucous, but less so in some forms than in others. They are opposite for an indefinite number of pairs, semi-circular, but each pair united into an apparently single, perfoliate leaf. These connate leaves eventually become detached from the stem and spin around in the wind – hence the popular name. Adult leaves lanceolate or sickle-shaped, 3 to 41⁄2 in. long and up to 1 in. wide, usually glaucous. Fruits small (1⁄5 in. long), borne in threes on a short, stout common stalk.
A native of Tasmania from 1,000 to 2,000 ft, and of the mountains of Victoria and New South Wales, where it ascends to 5,000 ft. It once had the reputation for tenderness but provenances of recent introduction have proved hardy. At Goudhurst in Kent V. R. Waldron has a very glaucous and hardy strain deriving from seeds sent by Dr Martin from Tasmania in 1957.