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Eucalyptus obliqua (Messmate stringybark) Growing Guide

Eucalyptus obliqua may not be the first choice for a home garden but, if you just happen to have a lot of space and the perfect conditions, Eucalyptus obliqua would make an impressive and imposing tree for a wildlife-friendly garden.

This guide offers a full set of hints and tips on how to grow, propagate and care for Eucalyptus obliqua, plus some insights into pest management.

Perhaps even more important are the insights into how to identify and understand the needs of Eucalyptus obliqua, often called Tasmanian oak or stringybark, which shouldn’t be mistaken for other species, especially if you’re a keen forager.


Eucalyptus obliqua, also known as Brown Top Stringbark






E. obliqua

Common names:

Messmate Stringybark, Brown Top Stringbark, Tasmanian Oak






Large Tree


up to 90m tall

Sun requirements: 

Full sun

Foliage colour: 


Flower colour: 

Pink or white


Late spring to summer

Edible parts: 


Maintenance level:


Poisonous for pets: 

Toxic to cats and dogs

What is Eucalyptus obliqua?

Eucalyptus obliqua is commonly known as stringybark, messmate, brown top or Tasmanian oak. This form of Eucalyptus usually grows to a 90m (300 ft) tree. Eucalyptus obliqua comes second in the tallest Australian Eucalyptus tree charts. Thicker branches have a stringy texture to their bark whereas thinner ones have a smoother look. 

Coppiced trees will nearly always have smooth reddish bark, which offers a level of depth and shade, unlike any other Eucalyptus.

The Stringybark tree has white, myrtle-like, fluffy flowers and can be in flower most months, making it ideal for native wildlife too. The flowers are followed by a fruit in the form of a woody barrel-shaped capsule, typically found in groups of three or seven.

Eucalyptus obliqua’s name comes from the Latin obliquus which refers to the unequal and asymmetry of the different shaped leaf bases, but we find it more useful to remember its common names – brown top and stringybark, which offer a clearer description of its identifying characteristics.

What is Messmate Stringybark's Natural Habitat?

Eucalyptus obliqua is peppered throughout cooler areas of southeast Australia and can be found growing naturally in Victoria, Tasmania, and eastern New South Wales and extending to randomised collections in southern Queensland.

It can grow in a wide variety of soils but, as with all Eucalyptus, it prefers a wetter climate with a free-draining substrate and is often noted in cool mountainous, forest-covered regions. 

Being the second tallest Eucalyptus it finds itself at a natural advantage growing above its neighbouring competitors. E. Obliqua has changeable opinions on whether it can tolerate drought, but the maturity status of the tree seems to be a good indicator of its resilience to lack of water.

As a rule, keep saplings well-watered, and improve poor, sandy soils with organic matter to duplicate their drained but moist preferences.

There are so many eucalyptus trees to choose from, with native ranges all over the country. See our compilation of eucalyptus trees to find one native your part of Australia.

Eucalyptus obliqua

Common Uses for Eucalyptus obliqua

Eucalyptus obliqua makes for a strong and durable source of wood, and it is known to be well-used by Tasmanian aboriginals, using it for canoes, furniture and other building works. 

The bark, thanks to its distinctive stringy nature, which holds together well when peeled from the tree, is also dried and used for rope making. This uniquely fibrous bark is a useful fire starter too, as it burns quickly, and it burns hot. 

There is also evidence of the hollowed-out trunks being used as primitive fridges to store food or other perishables. It might not be that practical in today's world, but it would definitely be useful if you found yourself lost in the bush.

And like all eucalyptus, the essential oils, though less strong than other species, are a useful antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and crushed leaves can be rubbed onto the skin to help soothe burns, or held under running water to ease nasal congestion.

Edible Uses & Identifying Eucalyptus obliqua

Although there are no known edible uses for Eucalyptus obliqua, it does have some important known medical benefits. The all-important gum was used as a styptic effectively treating cuts and skin problems. This gum resin was found to be very astringent so was also used as a mouthwash to treat tooth and gum issues. 

Eucalyptus obliqua can be identified by its distinctive stringy bark, its asymmetrical leaf portions and its barrel-shaped seed capsules, which occur in groups of three or seven. The young bark of immature shoots has a red hue, and narrower branches are white, grading down to the stringy brown bark we are more familiar with.

One of the simplest ways to identify Eucalyptus obliqua though, is a quick look at its foliage. The leaves are not the typical lanceolate forms or coin-shape leaves of most species. Instead, they are wider, with pointed tips, much more like cherry leaves in shape and size.

How to Grow Eucalyptus obliqua

Growing Eucalyptus obliqua isn’t hard. Dig a hole, pop it in, and it will grow in most conditions. But, with a little more effort on the part of the gardener, these trees can work in a variety of ways and will take off much quicker.

The trick, as with most plants, is to do your best to provide it with something as close to its natural habitat as possible. That goes for every stage between sowing and propagation to pruning fifty-year-old trees.

But, especially while they are young, there are a few key things to take into consideration. Specific conditions are explained below.

Ideal Conditions for Growing Eucalyptus obliqua

Briefly, Eucalyptus obliqua likes well-drained but healthy soil and as much sun as possible. It prefers seasonal changes and summer rainfall. But those are preferences, not requirements. Below, there is further detail on adapting your own garden or landscape conditions to suit Eucalyptus obliqua.

Soil & Drainage

While Eucalyptus obliqua can tolerate poorer soil, it thrives when planted in moderately fertile, moisture-retentive ground with a slightly acidic pH, as you would find in a forest substrate (well-worked garden soils, regularly mulched with leaf litter, are ideal). 

Light & Temperature

Eucalyptus obliqua would preferably be planted in a sunny position where it has the space to develop into the sizable tree it could be, but if coppiced it can grow in most conditions, like any Eucalyptus species.

It is thought that this eucalyptus can tolerate short snaps of cold weather down to -10°C but mulching thickly around the base of the tree will help while it is young. 


Eucalyptus obliqua is an incredibly tough tree so doesn’t require shelter from harsh winds, even if they are coastal.

Eucalyptus obliqua in Australia

Source: iNaturalist

Planting Eucalyptus obliqua

Rule number one for planting Eucalyptus obliqua is that they dislike root disturbance. These trees, though tall, are very shallow-rooted so it’s best to plant them out in their final position as early as possible, or grow in containers to then plant out when larger.

They can respond badly to moving too, so if you buy a sapling, or a semi-mature tree to plant directly, leave it in its position for a week, so it can acclimatise to the location, before having to adapt to the new soil as well.

And finally, despite being hardy, tough, self-sustaining trees, Eucalyptus obliqua should be staked when planted if the stem is less than 5cm across. So when planting, dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball to promote lateral anchoring growth as quickly as possible, and then hammer a solid tree stake at a 45-degree angle, facing into the prevailing wind. Tie the trunk in loosely so it still has room to sway.

How to Propagate Eucalyptus obliqua

Eucalyptus obliqua grows well from seed, but propagating from cuttings is famously challenging across the whole eucalypt genus. Below are some tips for growing from seed, but if you’d like to try something different, why not give grafting a go?

Grafting any tree offers a stronger plant, with a guarantee that the top will grow true to size, and can even give you the option of restricting these gigantic trees to a more manageable height. A brief guide to grafting is included later on.

Growing Eucalyptus obliqua from Seeds

You can easily grow your own Eucalyptus obliqua from seeds, with surprisingly good results. In most cases, Eucalyptus will have issues with propagation in domestic settings, either because the seed doesn’t grow true to its parent, or because the seeds of some species take forever to germinate.

Thankfully, there is no special treatment required here. Eucalyptus obliqua can be sown directly onto the surface of a peat-free compost in late winter or early spring, where it will usually germinate within four weeks. 

Once germinated, grow your Eucalyptus obliqua seedlings in a sheltered position or greenhouse. The least amount of root disturbance possible will allow the roots to develop as best as possible. 

Tip: While it is not necessary, a period of stratification will help germinate the seed. We find the best method for this, thanks to the small seed size, is to mix seeds with a handful of dry sand and place them in a dry, air-tight bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge. The longer you leave them the better your germination rate will be, but four to five seems to be ideal.

Grafting Eucalyptus obliqua

The most common method is growing from seed, but eucalyptus can also be propagated from grafts as just cuttings by themselves can be tricky to take. 

Grafting is done by taking a cutting from the healthy growth of a mature tree and splicing it together with the healthy root of another tree in the same genus. There are two major benefits of this.

One is that you can achieve fruiting and flowering trees faster, as the rootstock controls that growth mechanism. The other is that the rootstock doesn’t need to match the parent tree’s species, just the genus.

So you could, if you liked the overall look of Eucalyptus obliqua, graft it onto a dwarf species, Eucalyptus gunnii ‘Azura’. Explore our comprehensive guide to growing Eucalyptus gunnii for more information.

Simply take a cutting, as you usually would, and cut a v-shaped point at the base, at a node. In the rootstock, remove the top growth, leaving a few inches above soil level, and cut a v-shaped notch into the side of the stem. Push the cutting into the rootstock, and make sure there is tight adhesion, then wrap it with flexible tape to secure it.

Within weeks, the grafted cutting should start to grow new leaves, and within a few years, you’ll have a gorgeous young tree.

Caring for Eucalyptus obliqua

It’s all about age when it comes to managing these gigantic trees, even if you cut them back and coppice them. Young trees need plenty of moisture and benefit from really good soil preparation, but mature trees need very little from you as a gardener.

Instructions on dealing with potential problems, and managing coppiced trees follow.

Feeding Eucalyptus obliqua

There is little need to mulch or feed Eucalyptus obliqua, and mature trees are more likely to suffer from it than benefit. 

If coppiced trees are showing signs of nutrient deficiency, like yellowing leaves, it is actually more likely to be a moisture retention or drought issue, causing the roots to fail, as they can grow happily on very poor soils once established.

If there are no other signs of fungal issues, and the tree is growing fine other than anaemic foliage, a spring mulch of rotted leaf litter, or fine compost (kept out of direct contact with the trunk) won’t hurt.

Irrigation for Mature Eucalyptus obliqua

Again, there isn’t much to be done for mature Eucalyptus obliqua trees. Once established, they can source water from incredible distances, and cope well with drought. But young trees are pickier about their conditions, preferring them to match natural habitats more closely. 

Water young trees well for their first two or three summers, until they are clearly established.

Pruning Eucalyptus obliqua

Eucalyptus obliqua doesn’t generally require much pruning or maintenance if you are growing it as a full-sized tree. However, when grown as a backyard tree it may need some intervention to keep its shape or to remove any dead, diseased or damaged parts for the overall health of the tree. 

Any major pruning should preferably be undertaken in early Spring before the tree has started to put on new growth.

Their ability to regrow after heavy coppicing is down to the lignotuber root crown which allows the tree to regrow even after destruction of the entire tree. These trees can even regrow after forest fires.

This makes them ideal candidates for eucalyptus hedging, and while the foliage might not have the same frothy appeal as some species, it is an easy-to-maintain coppicing plant that grows back quickly each year.

Common Eucalyptus obliqua Pests & Diseases

When grown as a garden tree, the balance of naturally occurring pests can be slightly out of balance compared to when these trees grow in their natural habitat, so it is best to keep a watchful eye. They can be victim to the usual pests and diseases that attack most trees. 

Being a member of the Myrtacacea family it can be susceptive to Myrtle rust, and can also be susceptible to cinnamon rust. However, the tree shows evidence that it can recover and is generally hardy enough to withstand these problems if it is grown in proper conditions. 

A few specific pests that are regular occurrences across most eucalyptus trees include caterpillars, psyllids, leaf borers, stem borers and leaf beetles. Gall wasps are also particularly problematic in larger plantations.

By far the best method of control for all of the above is natural predators, but this can be hard to put into practice in gardens. As a general rule, including pollinator-friendly plants, ponds and still water in your garden will offer a home to spiders, wasps and ladybugs, which predate most eucalyptus pests.

Eucalyptus obliqua is generally disease resistant, but as above, it can be affected by Myrtle rust, and most common tree diseases like canker, crown rot, and root rot can occur, particularly on younger trees.

But as we mentioned at the start of the article, there is such a wide range of conditions and tolerances noted for this species, that anything other than boggy conditions should be safe to avoid the most common root diseases.

As for leaf and stem diseases on new growth, pest management via natural predators will always be the most effective route to maintaining a healthy tree.

Eucalyptus obliqua Frequently Asked Questions

Eucalyptus obliqua, commonly known as Messmate Stringybark

Source: Plantiago

What is Eucalyptus obliqua most used for?

The most common use for Eucalyptus obliqua is medicinal, despite its fairly low concentration of essential oils. The leaves are easy to harvest and offer plenty of material to extract from.

Is messmate the same as stringybark?

Messmate and stringybark are both common names for Eucalyptus obliqua. The name messmate has no clear origin or meaning, while stringybark is slightly more obvious, as it is a simple description of the key characteristic of the bark.

What is the leaf shape of Eucalyptus obliqua?

Eucalyptus obliqua has broad leaves, sometimes described as lance-shaped, but they are typically more oval than elongated.

Is messmate timber good quality?

Messmate timber is an excellent timber for furniture building and even outdoor joinery. The timber is durable, with a gorgeous graining, and wonderful colour, as well as offering some antimicrobial properties that extend the life of the timber.

Is Eucalyptus obliqua safe for lungs?

Eucalyptus obliqua is resoundingly useful for respiratory irritations and can help to open up the airways, but it is not always safe to use, depending on specific medical conditions and if you have lung infections.

Check with your doctor before using eucalyptus if you have anything other than a cold or irritated airway.

Why have my Eucalyptus obliqua leaves changed shape?

Eucalyptus obliqua’s mature foliage is often narrower than the leaves of saplings. Like all eucalyptus trees, the young leaves from new branches of Eucalyptus obliqua are different to those growing from mature branches. As the tree matures its leaf shape will mature too. 

Should I put Eucalyptus obliqua in my shower?

Adding freshly cut stems from Eucalyptus obliqua is a fabulous way to add luxury to your morning routine. The gentle fragrance released from the leaves is a gentle decongestant, helping you to take more air into your lungs in the morning, and feel fresher for the rest of the day.

Can dogs eat eucalyptus?

Dogs cannot eat eucalyptus, it is highly toxic to them and can cause severe reactions. The same applies to cats, rabbits and many other household pets, whether it is dried foliage or fresh.

Can I cut the top off my eucalyptus tree?

You should never simply remove the top of a tree. The shape will never recover and you will be left with several new leading trunks that deform the overall shape. However, if you are pollarding the tree entirely, or coppicing it, it can make for an attractive lollipop shape with regular pruning each year after that.

How do you keep Eucalyptus obliqua trees small?

Eucalyptus obliqua is a naturally tall tree (the second tallest of all Eucalyptus) so keeping it small isn’t particularly practical. But, it can be treated as a coppiced hedge easily and grows quickly back each year to form fresh and scented screening.

Introduce the Timeless Beauty of Eucalyptus obliqua to Your Garden

To make the most out of your Eucalyptus obliqua it is best to treat it as a centrepiece when growing in a garden setting. Seeing it as an investment piece for a native-inspired landscape or the main event when it comes to a wildlife-friendly garden. This tree will be a focal point in many ways, not only in stature.

So, with everything you now know, you can hopefully find space for Eucalyptus obliqua at home. Its leaves are distinctly different from many in its genus, making it an unusual and bespoke option for any garden, regardless of how you choose to grow it.

Last Updated on March 25, 2024

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About the author 

Nathan Schwartz

Hey, I'm Nathan Schwartz, team member at Aussie Green Thumb since 2020. I have a passion for edible plants and Australian native plants, both in the garden and in the Aussie bush.

As an avid traveller and camper, I love seeing the different landscapes and flora that Australia has to offer, and try to incorporate this into my own daily living.

Whether I am living on the road, in an apartment or have a big backyard working with practical and usable gardens in small spaces is my specialty.

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