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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Happy Wattle Day! An Acacia alphabet.

Today, 1 September, is (semi-officially) at least Wattle Day in Australia. It has been celebrated sporadically from the earlier days of our colonisation, as part of a growing sense of identity and even independence. It's a day whose significance has ebbed and flowed over the years; at present there's something of a minor movement to raise its significance again, but it has no formal recognition. From time to time the suggestion arises that it would be a desirable alternative to the current date, 26 January, for 'Australia Day', our official national day, which commemorates the raising of the British flag on land occupied by indigenous Australians. This is a divisive anniversary, especially among the descendants of those deposed original inhabitants. Wattle Day would be a presumably non-controversial alternative but it's safe to say that the transition won't be happening any time soon.
Hill's Tabletop Wattle Acacia hilliana carpeting the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia.
Jam Wattle A. acuminata, Christmas Rock, south-western Western Australia.
The cut wood really smells like raspberry jam!
1 September is officially also the start of spring here; for reasons I can't readily explain, Australia uses the agreed Meteorological definition of the seasons, which sets the change of season at the first of September (and December, March and June), while Europe and North America use the Astronomical definition, which uses the equinoxes and solstices to mark the start of the season. Neither of course is 'right' or 'wrong', both are are more or less arbitrary human conceits. There are good reasons to define the seasons by what's actually happening, as many societies have done, and as some Australian indigenous communities (such as in the Top End) still do. For instance clear signs of spring around here to me include the appearance of the first Blue Finger Orchids Cyanicula (or Caladenia) caerulea, the raucous arrival of migratory Noisy Friarbirds, or the day that the Grey Shrike-thrushes abandon their single note winter call and resume their glorious spring/summer serenade. 

This would of course mean that the dates would change from year to year, and while that seems perfectly reasonable to me, I'm realistic enough to know that it's not going to happen!

Meantime, I'd like to celebrate Wattle Day with an alphabet of acacias - or as near as I can get to providing a photo of a species for each letter of the alphabet. With close to 1000 Australian species recognised it shouldn't have been an impossible task, but I didn't quite make it. I failed on J (there are actually quite a few, but I've not met them), N (though there are some, including the type species), Q (there are five, but I can only offer one which at least contains a Q!), and X (there are five), Y (three exist) and Z (of which there is just one). Not too bad though I reckon. In a couple of places I've been unable to pick just one - I hope you can cope in those situations... Lastly, I've tried to select wattles that might be less familiar to most people.
A. acradenia, Great Sandy Desert. This one grows across dry northern Australia.
A. brownii, Goonoo Forest near Dubbo, central west New South Wales.
Named for the great Scottish botanist Robert Brown.
Minnieritchie A. cyperophylla, near Mount Magnet, central Western Australia.
The common name refers to the bark type; this striking species is found scattered across the
middle latitudes of arid Australia.
Showy Wattle A. decora, above and below, Goobang NP, central western New South Wales.

Cerdar Wattle A. elata.Unlike most of the wattles featured here, Cedar Wattle lives in wet forests of the east coast.
Gossamer Wattle A. floribunda, Deua NP, southern New South Wales.
A popular garden plant for its dense blooms, but here in its natural situation.
Early Wattle A. genistifolia, Black Mountain, Canberra.
I love this one, both for its relatively unusual very pale flowers, and because it flowers
in winter, when not much else is doing so in frosty Canberra!
(I've not used many local species here - I'm saving them!)
A. helicophylla, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) NP, Top End of Northern Territory.
This wattle, with the wonderfully twisty phyllodes, is found only on sandstone around
the upper Katherine and Edith Rivers.
I couldn't decide between two 'h' wattles, both with fascinating foliage.

Soapbush Wattle A. holosericea, Cobbold Gorge, central northern Queensland.
The phyllodes are huge - over 20cm long,and up to 10cm wide.
The pods are reputed to remove dirt from the hands if rubbed on the skin; they
(and I think the foliage) certainly contain saponins.
A. ingramii, Dangars Falls, Oxley Wild Rivers NP, near Armidale, northern New South Wales.
This one is restricted to the upper reaches of the Macleay River in the New England area.
I'm not sure why I've not yet met any of the 'j' acacias - there are quite a few. The one I most wish I could introduce you to though is the exquisitely named Acacia jibberdingensis from the Western Australian goldfields.
Witchetty Wattle A. kempeana, near Alice Springs, central Australia.
Named for Pastor Kempe, who founded the Lutheran Mission at Hermannsburg - now the Ntaria Community.
He presumably collected it for Ferdinand von Mueller, who named it.
Indigenous people know that big moth larvae (ie Witchetty Grubs) live in the roots of the plant;
they are an important food source for the desert people.
Sandhill Wattle A. ligulata, Gawler Ranges NP, South Australia.
This wattle is found across inland Australia.
I didn't want to have to decide between two 'l' wattles, so here's another...
Coastal Wattle (or Sydney Golden Wattle around Sydney) A. longifolia, Ulladulla,
south coast New South Wales. This one grows around the coast of south-eastern Australia.
Black Wattle A. mearnsii, Canberra. It is in bud, like here, that it is easiest to see that a
wattle 'flower' is actually a collection of many small clustered flowers.
Sadly this species - common throughout south-eastern Australia - has become an invasive weed
in much of the world.
There are quite a few 'n' acacias, but again I (or at least my camera) have not yet had the pleasure. The first acacia to be named was actually A. nilotica, from Africa, though it has now been put in the genus Vachellia. Perhaps in a balancing-out for the misdeeds of A. mearnsii, nilotica is a serious spiny weed in parts of northern Australia. With regard to natives, one example is A. nanodealbata of central Victoria.
Kata Tjuta Wattle A. olgana, Kata Tjuta, central Australia.
The scientific name refers to the temporary renaming of Kata Tjuta as Mount Olga during the 19th century.
Despite the names, it is found elsewhere in central Australia too.
Prickly Moses A. pulchella, South Beekeepers Nature Reserve, Western Australia, above and below.
This is one of several species bearing this common name, it being a corruption of
'Prickly Mimosa'. This one is endemic to the south-west.
 

Kanji Bush A. inaequilatera, Kata Tjuta. It is found across the central and western deserts.
The name refers to the fact that the vein divides the phyllode unequally.
(There are five actual 'q' wattles, including A. quadrisculata from the Kalbarri area of Western Australia.)
Net-veined Wattle A. retivenea, Bladensburg NP, central Queensland.
Another one with very impressive foliage!
Mudgee Wattle A. spectabilis, Goobang NP, central western New South Wales.
I don't think you can go wrong with a wattle against the sky!
Despite being named for a New South Wales central west town, it is found in much of inland
eastern New South Wales and south-east Queensland.

Yes, another 's'...
Spiny Wattle A. spinescens, Lincoln NP, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.
The branchlets themselves are stiff and spiky. It is found in dry vegetation across South Australia
to western Victoria.
Spurwing Wattle A. triptera, Goonoo Forest, central west New South Wales.
Another imposingly spiky wattle, this one via stiff pointed phyllodes.
It is found in dry forest and shrubland from Victoria to central Queensland.
Juniper Wattle (also another of those known as Prickly Moses) A. ulicifolia, Deua NP, southern
New South Wales. Another very pale-flowered wattle, found widely in south-eastern Australia.
Elegant, Bramble or Royal Wattle, Bardi Bush, Gundabluey, Narran etc, A. victoriae.I regret not being able to offer a more inspiring picture of this wattle because, scraggly and prickly as it is,
it's one of my favourites. It's ubiquitous across inland Australia and was one of the first species I learnt to
recognise - and it tells me I'm getting into the glorious arid zone.
Despite the 'royal' name alternative, it wasn't named for the queen herself, but the Victoria River, named
and partly explored by Thomas Mitchell in central Queensland in 1845. However it is something of a mystery as it doesn't appear on any modern map. According to Mitchell's map, it arises near the
origins of the Nive and Nogoa Rivers (roughly near Carnarvon Gorge) and flows west, but it
doesn't seem to match any river there. I originally expressed my bafflement here, but not for the first time ANU
scholar David Nash has come to my rescue. He directed me to William Cootes' History of the colony of Queensland from 1770 to the close of the year 1881 : in two volumes. Mitchell was a great believer that there must be a great river
running north-west all the way to the north coast (he even had a name for it, which he ascribed to Aboriginal people
- the Kindur). When he found the Victoria River he was sure this was 'it', though he didn't call it the Kindur!
Later Edmund Kennedy, who had assisted Mitchell on the original expedition, explored further and determined
that the Victoria was in fact an ephemeral stream which ran south-west; any water that ran in it headed
to central Australia via Cooper Creek. Hence Acacia victoriae! Personally I prefer Gundabluey...
A. wilhelmiana, Temora, central western New South Wales.
A mallee and woodland species, mostly from South Australia and south-western New South Wales.
Named for Carl Wilhelmi, a German botanical collector, especially in South Australia, working for von Mueller.
And that's it from me I'm afraid.... There are, surprisingly, five 'x' wattles (including A. xiphophylla from the Pilbara); there are only three 'y's (of which I'd very like to be able to present A. yirrkallensis from Arnhem Land or A. yorkrakinensis from the WA goldfields) and just one 'z', A. zatrichota from the Kimberley.

So, Happy Wattle Day!! But the best news is that, with at least one and usually several wattles flowering on any given day pretty much anywhere you are in Australia, every day can be Wattle Day!



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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lovely alphabet, and such a variety. Plus here in chilly Canberra they really brighten up the end of winter.

Ian Fraser said...

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! They (some of them) are certainly a most beloved and welcome portent of the coming of spring.

Helen and Ian said...

I loved this post, thanks Ian, and recognise many from our outback travels over several years. I have taken the liberty of including a link to this post in an article I am writing for our local community newsletter, the Woodend Star, called Ode to Winter, welcome to Spring.

Ian Fraser said...

Thank you for your kind comments; I'm delighted to know that the post brought you some good memories. And isn't it lovely when someone actually responds to a blog post?! I am honoured to be linked in the Woodend Star!