July 4, 2003, Newsletter Issue #126: Beautiful Flora of Australia!

Tip of the Week

Acacias

Acacias are found on all continents except Europe and Antarctica. They are particularly well-developed in Africa and Australia. There are more than 1,000 published species, of which about 660 occur in Australia. Australian species vary from prostrate shrubs about 0.5 m tall such as A. depressa and A. pulviniformis, to large forest trees attaining 35 m, e.g. A. bakeri and A. melanoxylon. The acacia is characteristic of the arid and semi-arid climatic regions and is common in much of the sub-humid region. There are fewer representatives in the humid region and the acacia is rarely represented in tropical rainforest and in grassland.

Acacias are commonly known as wattles. This name originates from early English where it denoted "interlaced rods and twigs as material of fences, walls and roofs (plastered with mud and clay)". It was adopted by early Australian settlers because of the similarity of the twigs and branchlets of coastal species to those of plants used in England for ´wattle´ construction. The name wattle is often incorporated in the common names of the species, e.g. black, green or silver wattle, while for many inland species euphonious Aboriginal names have been retained: brigalow, cooba gidgee, mulga, myall and yarran.

Many acacia species are amongst the most spectacular flowering plants of Australia. Individual flowering specimens are conspicuous in the landscape and are often covered in a mass of yellow blossom for several weeks. The flowers occur in heads 0.5-1 cm in diameter or in spikes up to 10 cm or more in length, with yellow colours predominating, although varying from almost white to deep orange-yellow; one species, A. purpureapetala, has purple flowers. One of the best-known species is Cootamundra wattle (A. baileyana), which is extensively planted as an ornamental. Among the many other colourful flowering species are A. pycnantha, A. spectabilis and A. elata. Wattle is a national emblem in Australia and Wattle Day became an established spring-time anniversary in many States, though now less rigorously observed. The wattle motif is prominent in the Australian Coat of Arms and in all levels of the honours award of Order of Australia which was initiated in 1976.

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