Free the oaks

These brave pioneers did not get the memo about not growing under eucalyptus trees.

Free the oaks

Oaks are considered a noble tree in Portugal. Spanning multiple species, they used to be widespread across the country.

Nowadays the most common trees are Eucalyptus Globulus and, to a lesser degree, pines. Imported from Australia, eucalyptus is considered an invasive species but is widely grown as a cash crop to make paper. Properly managed eucalyptus plantations don't have other trees or vegetation – everything around the trunks is regularly cleaned to reduce fire risk.

Like many others, the small forest on our plot consists of mostly eucalyptus and was not managed since its last harvest. 4-5 or more trees regrown from each stump, dry bark everywhere, thick and prickly brambles and gorse filling the underfloor. Eucalyptus leaves are allelopathic, so few seeds can germinate underneath.

As we explored the plot we found several small young oaks, mostly around the edges. Blown by the wind, crapped out by birds, or buried by squirrels, these brave pioneers did not get the memo about not growing under eucalyptus trees.

We don't know yet what will happen with all the eucalyptus, but it's clear that we want the oaks to succeed. Thus, the need to completely remove immediately adjacent trunks if present (to reduce root/water competition) and to trim the surrounding bunches down to just 1-2 trunks (to reduce sunlight competition).

We bought a cordless electric chainsaw and I got to work. It's my first time felling trees or using a chainsaw, and all the reading about how to use it properly made me a little nervous. The chainsaw, at first glance mellow and weak compared to its gas-powered brothers, whirs angrily. It looks eager to chop off limbs, and I feel eager to ensure that they all belong to trees.

It's hard yet exciting work. Progress is constantly visible, whether by the rapidly decreasing battery levels or by the increasing piles of branches and logs (hopefully soon to be used to grow mushrooms).

When done, the oaks now have lots more space and light. It's nature's turn now. I feel great after the combination of a vigorous workout, learning a new skill, and playing with a new, dangerous toy. Let's see if there are more oaks to help.