Kangaroo Island Narrow Leaf Mallee – Eucalyptus cneorifolia

Eucalyptus cneorifolia | Kangaroo Island Narrow-Leaf Mallee

The Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaf Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) is the variety of Eucalyptus tree that Emu Ridge sustainably grows and harvests for its famous Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil was Australia’s first true export overseas!

In the early 1900’s there were over 100 Eucalyptus stills on the island producing eucalyptus oil from the Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaf Mallee, making it the biggest export off of Kangaroo Island during that time. Today Emu Ridge is the only Eucalyptus oil Distillery in South Australia.

The Kangaroo Island Narrow-Leaf Mallee is native to Kangaroo Island. Bev and Larry Turner founders of the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus oil distillery in 1991 were lucky to have an honors student Adam Steer do a study on (Factors affecting oil yield, and genetic selection for the improved oil yield, in Eucalyptus cneorifolia growing on Kangaroo Island) After many years of research and through selective breeding Larry and Bev have endeavored to  collect seeds from the best oil-bearing, disease free and drought resistant plants. These seeds are then grown to seedlings and looked after at the Emu Ridge nursery. Sustainability of the species is the key to it’s future and also the reputation of the oil. Buying from local and small businesses like Emu Ridge is the best way to support the future of trees like the Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaf Mallee.

Description: A small mallee type to 16′ with cream flowers. This species is used primarily for essential oil extraction and is often cultivated for the attractive foliage. It is quick growing, suitable for windbreaks and erosion control, salt effected areas and does well on limestone type soils. It is a rare species from Kangaroo Island and has no closely related species. It is from the Myrtaceae family.

Culture: Sun, well drained acid or alkaline soil, sandy loam, low moisture requirement.

Uses: Shrub or small tree, essential oil production, ornamental, windbreaks, coastal area plantings, cut flowers, foliage and fruits.
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The Kangaroo Island Narrow leaf mallee trees are easily recognized by their erect stems,  narrow leaves, crowded fusiform buds and hemispherical fruit. They are often cultivated because of its attractive foliage. They are a fairly hardy plant, with only a few threats including inadequate recruitment and livestock grazing.

Like the name suggests, the leaf of the tree is narrow and long with beautiful dark olive green foliage and bright lime green new foliage. You can hold the older leaves up to the light and see the many eucalyptus oil cells throughout the leaf. However, the leaf does not have a fragrance unless you crush the precious oil cells.

The beautiful new growth from Spring is where all the good oil is, so our distilling time is seasonal. We only produce our oil at the end of Spring and throughout Summer. The difference in yield is huge from only 1% in the Winter to 4% in the Summer. For example, our distilling pot holds about 500kg of leaves per cook, which produces only 1 – 2 litres of eucalyptus oil in winter, but produces  5 – 10 litres of eucalyptus oil in the summer.

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Distribution and population only occurs in South Australia. Common on the eastern part of Kangaroo Island, and occurs in restricted pockets near Waitpinga on Fleurieu Peninsula. There has also been findings of this plant near coastal locations of southern Fleurieu Peninsula, between Deep Creek and Victor Harbour.

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The fruit of the tree is a small football shape, as shown in the picture below, with the red tops dropping off to welcome the white or cream fluffy flowers inside. We use the the leaves, fruit and flowers to decorate all kinds of different products in our retail shop, and also use them in our pot pourri.

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The picture below is of part of our plantation at Emu Ridge. Larry selectively bred the eucalyptus with the help of research working with the Waite Institute in Adelaide. He planted his trees in contour rows and harvests every second row so that the remaining row will protect the new growth from the Kangaroo Island weather. The trees are harvested to the ground and are re-harvested every one to two years. This keeps the tree as a hedge instead of growing into a taller tree.

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Below are the trees left to grow tall. The name “Mallee” means several slender stems. The tree ends up with a “canopy” of leaves up the top. Multi-stemmed or single-stemmed trees can grow up to 10 meters high, with the adult leaves alternating. The leaves are generally on petioles 5-10 mm long, sub-erect, glossy and an olive-green colour.

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Below is a famous strip of road on Kangaroo Island which travels through the “tunnel” of Narrow-Leaf Mallee trees…. we have a few of these beautiful cathedrals on the Island.


Source – Matt White

dean wiles

Source – Dean Wiles

Below are photos of the bark. The  bark is somewhat fibrous, greyish-brown to dark-grey, compact rough bark longitudinally fissured , being replaced  by a smooth greyish bark.

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Below is a photo which shows the many stems growing from the mallee stump.

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The Kangaroo Island Narrow Leaf Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) predominately covers the Eastern side of Kangaroo island as you can see in the below images.



Artworks using the Kangaroo Island Narrow-Leaf Mallee – Eucalyptus cneorifolia

Below is some artwork I would like to share with you from 2 of my favourite and Kangaroo Islands most  accomplished and admired artists.  Janine Mackintosh and Scott Harshorne. Each has a unique take on nature, Janine with meticulously sewn assemblages of natural objects and Scott with his giant, sparse oils reminiscent of herbarium sheets.

Scott Hartshorne’s oversized branchlets of native Kangaroo Island trees are the perfect complement to the detail of Janine’s assemblages. They strip down the tree to its essence and present it boldly and powerfully.

Dry Branch_Scott Hartshorne

Dry Branch: A Study In Complexity Eucalyptus cneorifolia, Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaf Mallee.

Visit Scott’s Facebook and Webpage

Janine’s assemblages present in mesmerising detail the natural world of Kangaroo Island and in particular her own Heritage listed property. Her art is a message to save what we have left of the complexity of biodiversity.

Janine Mackintosh_Industry

INDUSTRY- Artist Janine Mackinosh Yacca (Xanthorrhoea semiplana ssp. tateana) gum, Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) leaves, metal farm disc, linen thread and bookbinder’s gum on canvas by

Janine Mackintosh_Lamentation

LAMENTATION – Artist Janine Mackintosh Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) leaves from a drowning tree, linen thread and bookbinder’s gum on canvas

Visit Janine’s Facebook and Webpage

Eucalyptus Oil


Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Produced on Kangaroo Island South Australia

Bev and Larry have been producing Eucalyptus Oil from the Kangaroo Island Narrow-Leaf Mallee since 1991. Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery is an important part of Kangaroo Island’s Tourism industry, adding to the variety of Kangaroo Islands produce and preserving important history.

For more information on Emu Ridge’s history, please click on the blog links below:
Kangaroo Island History – Emu Ridge
Emu Ridge – The last South Australian Eucalyptus Oil Distillery!

Their shop on Kangaroo Island is the main outlet for their Eucalyptus Oil. Their online shop is also largely used by our supporting customers, from all over the globe!

#essentialoil #eucalyptusoil #pure #australian



These pictures were taken from our very own trees here at Emu Ridge to illustrate the unique species.

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptus_cneorifolia

Australian Government Department of the Environment – http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/ab8e9576-38e6-4dc7-9b36-becca5028f42/files/kangaroo-island-mallee-woodlands.pdf

Department for Enviroment and Heritage – file:///C:/Users/Emu%20Ridge%20Office/Downloads/pa-fact-pafacteucalyptuscneorifolia.pdf

Biodiversity Heritage Library – http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/19423960#page/315/mode/1up

Duck Lagoon Kangaroo Island

The Eucalyptus oil distilling industry on Kangaroo Island began in the late 1880’s when it became one of the Island’s major industries along with yacca gumming, timber cutting and possum/wallaby trapping. The Eucalyptus oil industry was mainly located on the eastern end of the Island where the Kangaroo island Narrow Leafed Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) is found in abundance.

Markin Tilka, along with his wife and children, settled in Australia in around 1880. They first lived in the Adelaide Hills, but later moved to Kangaroo Island due to the abundance of available farming land. Mr Tilka knew the potential for essential oils, due to their popularity throughout Germany and France, so in 1890, Mr Tilka planted three acres of assorted roses near Duck Lagoon, Cygnet River. He spent much money and had high hopes for producing essential oils, carrying out a number of trials with a friend, who happened to be a pharmacist.

Later, Mr Tilka and his grandson, Doug Burgess, started up a eucalyptus distillery near the new plantation, as eucalyptus was much easier to distill and was in great demand. The issue was that the roses needed much care and attention, so the eucalyptus oil industry took over and became the main supplement to their income. Unfortunately, Mr Tilka died in 1914 and with no one willing to carry on his dream, the eucalyptus industry continued to boom, while nothing became of the rose oil industry. The roses were neglected and all had died by 1975. (This information about Martin Tilka and the roses was given to Bev Turner over a phone call with Mr Doug Burgess himself, now deceased. Bev believes that if someone had continued with his dream, it would have bought a lot of wealth to Kangaroo Island, as rose oil is worth 20 times more than Eucalyptus oil).

The number of stills peaked in the 1930’s, with over 100 stills operating on the island, but only half of these operated at any one time because many farmers only operated stills purely to supplement their income. The traditional process of harvesting was hard work, with many long and strenuous hours being spent cutting leaf using razor sharp sickles, then loading it into horse and cart for transportation to the still.


Eucalyptus still boiler at Duck Lagoon Image by Judy & Brian Black

The commercial outlet for the oil produced was F.H. Faulding and Co, who later purchased the property Emu Ridge for the purposes of producing oil. Unfortunately though, the eucalyptus industry was short lived and had rapidly ceased around the 1950’s when wool farming took over.Today Emu Ridge is the only commercial eucalyptus oil distillery in South Australia.

The leaf of the indigenous Kangaroo Island Narrow Leafed Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) is particularly rich in aromatic oils. The leaf was harvested by hand, using razor sharp sickles, and transported to the still site where it was loaded into a large cooking “pot” which had been one third filled with water. December-January is the best time for getting the maximum amount of oil out of the eucalyptus leaves, however if a hot north wind blows the leaves around, it could reduce the oil content in the leaves by up to 50%.

The leaf was packed into the boiler pots. This involved laying in a good layer of leaf, jumping down into the pot, then jumping up and down on the leaf to compress it down, so that a larger quantity of leaf could fit. The pot lid was then lifted into place using a derrick crane and clamped down and sealed using either hessian bags soaked in water or with mud, which was the more traditional method used in the early years of distilling.


Duck Lagoon Eucalyptus still pot relic Image by Judy & Brian Black


The furnace was lit beneath the pot, boiling the leaves and water for several hours. The steam produced ruptured the oil cells in the leaves and the oil vapor released was condensed into liquid by a system of cooling pipes.

The oil and water separated at condensation in a receival pit. The crude eucalyptus oil, being lighter than water, was skimmed off the top and stored in drums for sale or further distilling. The average amount of oil produced in a day was around 25 liters, as it was a 3 pot still. The leaves in the cooking pot were then taken out and dried for stoking the furnace at a later date.

George Weatherspoon installed the boiler in 1949 to make the extraction process more efficient and easier to run. The boiler was retrieved from another still that had ceased to operate. Along with the boiler, a second pot (the larger one) was installed. A series of underground pipes released steam from the boiler to the two pots. The condensing process began as the vapor moved through a special cooling trough and the crude oil was collected in a tank. The process proved to be more economical and additional leaf could be put in the pots, therefore more oil was produced with each firing.This still continued to produce oil well into the 1950’s. This site is the best preserved example of a traditional eucalyptus still in South Australia. It is a State Heritage Site.

Only crude oil was produced from this still. This was stored in large amounts and then shipped to Adelaide, to F.H. Faulding and Co, where it was then further refined and sold locally, or exported to American, Japan, France and England.


Relic at Duck Lagoon Image by Paul White



Dusting off Australian History at Emu Ridge

Our Wwoofers Lea and Heather kept our place spick and span! This is our historical area with all the old bottles we have collected and been sent by lovely visitors and our Aboriginal display of stones we have found on our property.  Heather who studied history, with help from Lea, has also restored the history folders we made many years ago when we first started! Can’t wait for the girls to come back next week to help us out over the holidays, they are potato picking at the moment — with Lea Mausi and Heather Williamson.