Trees of Australia the Golden Wattle

The Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) has great significance for all Australians.

*  In 1988, the Golden Wattle was formally designated the Floral Emblem of Australia although it had been unofficially accepted in 1901 to mark the Federation of Australia.

*  A wreath of wattle forms a background decoration on the Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms. The cluster of flower heads and phyllodes are symbolic of many acacia species rather than being botanically accurate.

*  The wattle first appeared on an Australian stamp in 1913 and has appeared intermittently on stamps over the years. On Australia Day 1990, a stamp labelled ‘Acacia pycnantha’ was issued.

*  International sporting teams representing Australia wear green and gold, signifying the green and gold of the wattle in general, rather than the Golden Wattle in particular.

*  The design and decoration of the Order of Australia, established in 1975, features the Golden Wattle. The Order of Australia is one of the country’s system of honours and awards.
*  In 1992, September 1 was formally declared ‘National Wattle Day’.

Acacia is the largest genus in the Mimosaceae family. Various species are found throughout Australia but mainly in tropical and sub tropical areas. Acacia varieties are also indigenous to Africa. However, the Golden Wattle prefers temperate areas with precipitation levels in the range of 350 to 1000mm per annum. It occurs naturally in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory and forms part of the understorey of open forests or woodlands. It has been introduced to Western Australia. It is reasonably frost tolerant and grows well in a variety of soil types providing drainage is good. It is not particularly long-lived. The wattle has been introduced to Britain but only survives in the mildest areas. In California, cultivated specimens have now become ‘wild’ but not to the extent of becoming a pest. In South Africa the Golden Wattle has been designated a weed species.

The Golden Wattle regenerates easily after fire. The adult plants normally die but the intense heat stimulates germination of seeds in the soil. When propagating the Golden Wattle in a domestic situation, the heat from a bushfire is simulated by soaking the seeds in boiling water for a time before planting.

Acacia pycnantha is a shrub or small tree. It grows to between 4 and 8 metres. It is very showy, and fast growing in well watered and well drained locations. It is highly popular as a garden specimen where it is often planted as a feature tree. The bark is smooth and ranges from dark brown to almost black in colour.

There are no true leaves but modified petioles (the little stalks joining the leaf to the stem) perform the function of the leaves. The petioles are quite wide and flat and are called phyllodes. They are 6 to 20 cm long and are leathery, shiny and bright dark green in colour. They range from 0.5 to 3.5 cm wide and are lance or sickle-shaped.

The flowers form a large and fluffy ball with up to 80 tiny flowers clustered together. They have a sweet fragrance and cause hay fever in many people. They are a brilliant yellow and instantly recognisable.

The fruit are pods of 5 to 14 cm long. They are rather flat and may be straight or slightly curved. The pods turn dark brown as they ripen and split along one side to disperse the seeds.

The flowers of the Golden Wattle are used for making perfume and the bark is harvested for tannin. The indigenous people produced a sweet, toffee-like substance by soaking the gum in water and honey. The tannin in the bark was prized for its antiseptic qualities.

Early settlers used the bark to tan hides. The gum produced glues and honey was garnered from the blossoms.

The Golden Wattle, like the kangaroo and koala, is one of Australia’s most easily recognised icons.