I am slowly, excruciatingly slowly, learning to recognise the different eucalypt species which have been my neighbours for almost twenty years now. It sounds shocking not to know the names of the trees that you walk or ride past everyday. Like most non-indigenous Australians, perching precariously on this ancient but recently colonised land, I know little of the flora of my homeland and refer to it amorphously as gum trees and bush.
Different eucalypts yield different colours in the dye pot and finally, for the sake of the documentary imperative for this project, I am learning recognise my neighbours. I am getting pretty good at greeting my old friend Eucalyptus nicholli but today’s post is all about Eucalyptus viminalis also known as White Gum, Ribbon Gum or Manna Gum.
This is one of the eucalypts that are indigenous to our area and were reintroduced during the revegetation programs that began in the late 1980s. It is a large, fast growing tree, growing up to 30 metres. It has a rough base with smooth pale bark rising into a spreading crown. It sheds bark in long ribbons that hang from the tree and accumulate on the ground. It flowers white in Autumn and Winter. Apparently, the first people living in this neighbourhood, the Wurundjeri, made shields with the bark of the Manna Gum. Boring insects produce an edible sugary stuff on the tree called manna. According to my books, it is a mild laxative!
One of the Manna Gums along the creek path behind the factories had a limb fall down recently. This particular species is know for dropping large branches. This is where I gathered my leaves and bark on a bike ride with a small friend to help. We collected the bark from the ground, only taking the bits that were not already homes for spiders.
The bark was crushed up small and soaked in rainwater for a couple of weeks, then simmered for an hour or so, rested overnight and simmered again. The alum mordanted fibre was added and brought to a simmer again for one hour, then left to soak overnight.
From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, the bark and leaves, yield almost exactly the same colour range!