When I first saw images of rainbow eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus deglupta), I figured they couldn’t possibly be legit. With multicolored bark that looks like it’s been decorated with a giant paintbrush, they seem like something imagined in a Dr. Seuss book. But they do naturally grow and are native to tropical regions like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. And if you’re lucky enough to live in the southernmost parts of the U.S., there are a few places you can see them without needing a passport.
Rainbow eucalyptus is an evergreen tree that has spear-shaped, silvery-green leaves, and clusters of tiny white flowers. The most stunning feature is the trunk, which grows rainbow bark in shades of green, blue, orange, red, and purple. As it grows, the bark is constantly peeling off in strips to reveal new colors and patterns, evolving its beauty all the time.
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Rainbow trees need a hot environment with plenty of rain in order to grow, so you can only find them in certain parts of the United States. San Diego, California, is becoming a destination for the trees—you can see them at Balboa Park, along Sports Arena Boulevard, at the San Diego Zoo, and in parts of Mission Bay. Thanks to heavy rains in the last few years, the trees have produced particularly gorgeous bark so far in 2020.
You can also hop on a plane and head to Hawaii to see clusters of rainbow eucalyptus. There’s a popular grove of trees in Maui along the Hana Highway, and you can also spot them at Ke’anae Arboretum. On Kauai, you can stroll along the Princeville walking path to see groups of the trees, or head to Oahu and stop at the Wahiawa Botanical Garden or Honolulu Zoo.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida, you can snap a selfie with a rainbow eucalyptus tree at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens, Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg, the Naples Botanical Garden, and at Mounts Botanical Garden in Palm Beach County.
Depending on where you live, it may also be possible to grow your own rainbow eucalyptus tree. They’re hardy in Zones 9-11, which includes parts of southern California, Texas, Florida, and Hawaii. Rainbow trees grow best in full sun with consistently moist soil (they can tolerate short periods of drought, but it’s best to keep them well-watered). You can also grow the trees in containers in Zones 4-11 if you bring them indoors before the first frost.
In their native environment, rainbow eucalyptus trees can reach over 200 feet tall, though they’ll stay around 100 feet in the U.S. (they won’t grow quite as tall outside their native tropical forest habitat), and you can keep them even shorter by pruning regularly. These trees grow fast, and it’s not uncommon for them to shoot up by five feet in a single season, so they can reach towering heights in almost no time. Just be sure to check restrictions for your local area before planting—right now, the University of Florida’s Assessment of Non-Native Plants advises against planting them because they have the potential to be invasive.
Though pictures of these trees are stunning, they don’t quite capture the awe of seeing them in person. A real rainbow eucalyptus can stop you in your tracks, so if you have the chance to travel to see them, it’s well worth the journey.