New Article: Shemesh, Planting Eucalyptus Trees in Palestine

Shemesh, Abraham O. “Planting Eucalyptus Trees in the New Settlements in Nineteenth- to Twentieth-Century Palestine as Reflected in Rabbinic Documents.” Modern Judaism 36.1 (2016): 83-99.





In the new Jewish moshavot in Palestine (nineteenth to twentieth centuries), eucalyptus trees were used for the wood industry, to drain swamps, to give shade and block the wind, and to delineate fields in order to prevent trespassing. Rabbis dealt with two issues concerning eucalyptus trees: (A) whether they could be planted during a shmita (sabbatical year when planting is forbidden) in order to drain swamps and eradicate malaria, or to delineate lands owned by Jewish pioneers and thus prevent trespassing by Arab neighbors; and (B) the consideration of ecological regulations aimed at preventing the damage caused by the large trees and their roots to the settlers’ homes and fields.

Eucalyptus trees were brought to Palestine beginning in the early 1860s. At that time attempts were made to grow eucalyptus trees from seeds sent from the botanical gardens in Victoria, Australia, to the British Consul in Jerusalem. The first seeds were probably of the Eucalyptus globulus, called “Blue Gum” in Australia. They were brought to Palestine under different circumstances than those commonly assumed. At first they were brought for forestation purposes and to serve as shade trees and wind breaks rather than to drain swamps. In fact, however, Eucalyptus globulus proved to be unsuitable given the climate of Palestine and many attempts to acclimate it failed.