Enjoying Winter with Wattles
Wattle season has arrived for 2008, and I am thoroughly enjoying the display.
One of the delights of winter in Australia is the flowering of the wattle tree (Acacia). Whilst wattle pollen causes endless days of misery for certain hay fever sufferers*, the delightful yellow flowers of the wattle adds more than a touch of colour to a drab winter landscape and serves as a reminder that spring is on its way.
This year I’ve been surprised to discover most species of Acacia blooming in mid-July. In fact, I even found one species of wattle flowering in early May! It does make me wonder if this is not a biological response to Climate Change, because such early flowering is very unusual.
Whatever the reason for the incorrect scheduling, it is nice to wander the suburbs and appreciate the diversity and colour of the many species of wattle flowering at present. Australia has 950 indigenous species of Acacia out of a total of 1200, the remainder being native to parts of Africa. It’s therefore no surprise to find a wide range of forms, flower colours, leaf shapes and growth habits amongst this diverse group of plants.
Most Australians are familiar with Acacia pycnantha or the “Golden Wattle” which is Australia’s official floral emblem, but I want to tell you about a few different species that I like.
The first is A. willdenowiana, or the “Grass Wattle”. The common name of this Western Australian species is derived from its form, which is that of a sprawling shrub. Acacia willdenowiana seldom grows more than 60cm in height, but can spread to more than a metre and a half wide. Like many species of wattle, this one has no leaves. Rather it uses modified leaf-stalks (called phyllodes) to perform the normal functions of a leaf. Because of the sprawling habit of this species, the bright yellow ball flowers of this are nearly sitting on the ground. With its grass-like apparance and bright flowers, the Grass Wattle is quite a curiosity.
Acacia willdenowiana grows low to the ground.
Another species that I really like is A. longifolia, which grows up to 10 metres in height. Native to the eastern states, this species has long rod-shaped inflorescences of pale yellow flowers which almost smother the tree. The branches weep slightly to give the tree a pendulant appearance and the canopy is dense, making sure that the flower display can be seen from a far distance.
Acacia longifolia provides a vivid display.
Finally, I reckon A. flexifolia is worth a mention. I spotted this species in full bloom today and it looked amazing. This species is from central New South Wales, and grows to a height of 1.5 metres. It has upright stems which blow in the breeze. When covered in vivid yellow blooms this plant is very eye-catching. Unfortunately, I seldom see this species grown in gardens which is quite a shame.
Of course an article about wattles shouldn’t go without mention of A. leprosa ‘Scarlet Blaze’, but I’ve already discussed that species’ unique red flowers in a previous blog post. Yes, wattles now come in red!
Acacia leprosa ‘Scarlet Blaze’ has unique red flowers.
As you’re walking to and from work or school in coming days, please take a moment to look at the wattle trees that are flowering in your neighbourhood. Pay special attention to the shape of the leaves and the colour and form of the flowers. If you do, you’ll no doubt be amazed at the sheer diversity that this species has. From small ground-covers to massive trees, this genus really has something for everyone.
Useful Website: If you find wattles to be of interest, I highly recommend the World Wide Wattle website which is jam-packed with useful wattle info. The site has descriptions of every Australian Acacia species as well as photographs and links to other relevant plant databases.
*Fortunately, I don’t suffer from hay fever