Early shelters for the European settlers in Australia were made out of wattle branches from the black wattle or Acacia mearnsii and mud. Allowing protection from the elements in our harsh sometimes unforgiving climate. Later they would discover that this particular wattle also produces high amounts of tannin in its bark, which is widely used for the tanning of leather. An industry in high demand at this stage in history.
The Acacia varies greatly in size from species to species, they range from ground covers, shrubs to small & large trees. Almost all distinguishable by their golden yellow globular flowers except for a few, two of those are the Acacia purpureopetalain North Queensland Australia has mauve pink flowers and another from South Australia Acacia gilbertii which flowers white. This fascinating plant only has soft feather like leaves when it is young, as they mature they form phyllodes, losing their leaves all together. The foliage is generally either a blue-green or a silver-grey.
Although there has been an on going botanist debate concerning the reclassification of some species into five separate genera due to structural differences, ( a lot of species in Africa for example have thorns etc. ) it is still on going.
Acacia trees have a few fascinating defense systems in place, one of these is to produce gum from its bark when animals graze against them for protection. The scent of the gum travels through the air, causing other acacias in the vicinity to start excreting gum a very handy early warning system.
Another strange Acacia phenomenon is located in Coast a Rica these swollen thorn Acacia offer the Acacia ants a home, protein & carbohydrates in their hollow thorns and in return the ants defend the plant against herbivores. The plant controls the ant population by how much sugar it excrete’s for them to feast on.
Indigenous Australian’s had many uses for the wattle, most of the plant is used to make a variety of things including, sticks for digging, clap sticks, spear throwers, ax handles, shields, boomerangs, firewood, glue from the bark, dyes, spiritual ceremonial headdresses, seeds were ground with water to make a paste eaten fresh or cooked to make a damper like food.
Medicinal uses: teas could be brewed from specific parts of the roots, leaves & bark to treat cold, flu, sore throats, fever, headaches, stomach pains toothaches.
The gum excreted from the bark was also used, put in water with a high nectar flower such as the bottle brush to make a natural cordial like drink. The acacia kempeana is also the native home of the witchetty grub a great source of protein for the indigenous people.
Commercially today the Acacia family has many uses. It is used for erosion control revegetation programs and landscaping. Used in gums, soft drinks, candies, foods, paints, inks cosmetics & hair dyes just to name a few. The wood is used for firewood and furniture, the flowers for perfume and the bark produces tannin.
This awesome plant can not only thrive in arid climates and bush fire prone zones, it also naturally absorbs nitrogen and bacteria from the soil allowing a natural cleansing. An amazingly tough and resilient plant. Definitely appropriate for Australia’s floral emblem.