When I think about Australian vegetation gum trees and wattles immediately spring to mind. Winter conjures images of splashes of yellow in an otherwise relatively flowerless bushland – the wattles seem to dominate the bushland with warmth and cheer. Although wattles (genus Acacia) are found on most continents, it is in Australia they reach their zenith with over a thousand described indigenous species.
Wattles come in a variety of forms, from low, prostrate shrubs to tall trees with every height and shape in between. There are even two species of climbing wattles in North Queensland. Some species only live for a few years whilst others can live for hundreds of years. Whatever the season, there is always some species of wattle in flower. Floral colour ranges from cream through to lemon, buttery yellow and deep orangey-gold and there is a purple-flowered species in South Australia. The blooms are either fluffy balls of various sizes or spikes.
The acacias are nitrogen-fixing plants – they house bacteria in their roots that are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen and soil nitrites into nitrates which are essential for plant growth. Since Australian soils are low in this nutrient, the wattles are a significant coloniser of degraded land, preparing it for other nitrate-dependent species. They are also regenerators of forests after bush fires.
Whilst wattles are worthwhile growing for their intrinsic beauty, they perform a valuable role in the sustaining our wildlife. Shrubs like the winter gold wattle (Acacia amblygona), short hickory wattle (Acacia aulocarpa) and curracabah (Acacia concurrens) are some of the host plants for butterflies such as the blue jewel, double-spotted line blue, common imperial blue and fiery jewel. The tree, maiden’s wattle (Acacia maidenii) is the host for the common grass yellow and tailed emperor butterflies. Many butterflies feed on the nectar of a large number of other wattles as do nectar and pollen feeding birds. Pigeons, cockatoos, parrots and rosellas feast on the seed pods. Wattles are great bee attracting plants. Some provide forage for squirrel gliders and yet others are significant as shelters from predators for small birds such as wrens.
Many boutique biscuits being produced from wattle seeds. Although found predominantly in species from central Australia, the coastal wattle (Acacia sophorae) and Brisbane wattle (Acacia fimbriata) are two local species with high quality, edible seed (44% protein and 28% fat as well as carbohydrates and minerals).
The nursery stocks a large range of wattles. The staff will be delighted to find a species or two that would enhance your garden.