The genus Acacia, as it is understood at the present time includes Australia's wattles and is a very widely distributed genus of woody plants (trees, shrubs or very rarely prostrate creepers or lianes) with probably more than 1500-1600 species world-wide. They occur in Central America (including Southern United States), South America, Africa and the Middle East, Southern Asia, Australia and many parts of the Pacific. Australia has more about 900 species and there are a some more to be named and described. All of these, excepting about 10-15 species, are totally confined to Australia and the greatest concentration by far occurs in Western Australia.

Most Australian species of Acacia have bipinnate leaves, as least when they are in the seedling stage. Some keep this kind of foliage throughout their life but most lose it and instead have modified leaf stalks (petioles) called phyllodes which carry out the functions of leaves. Phyllodes vary enormously in shape and are very characteristic of some species. Most species have bright yellow flowers but some are cream or almost white and one species (Acacia purpurpetala, Purple Wattle) has purple flowers. The flowers of all species are quite small, usually less than 3 mm long. They are crowded into masses called heads or spikes. The flowers of most species are arranged in globular heads but many are in rod-like groups called spikes. The seeds are borne in pods.

Propagation is generally straight forward. Most can be germinated by treating with boiling water simply by pouring the boiling water over the seeds and letting them cool. The seeds should swell and are then ready for planting. As an alternative, seeds can be scarified. Some species can be grown from cuttings. [See Elliot & Jones, Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants Suitable For Cultivation, Vol. 2, p.11 for further information.]

Wattles As Garden Subjects

The history of cultivation of wattles goes back to the middle of the eighteenth century, perhaps even further than that. The first evidence that an Australian wattle was cultivated comes from a book published in 1768 and it refers to a specimen that was grown in a private botanical garden in Batavia (now Jakarta) from seed that must have been collected in Australia, possibly by the Dutch explorer Vlamingh. He visited Swan River district (now Perth, Western Australia) in 1697 and most likely took some seeds (doubtfully plants) to Java.

Australian wattles were introduced into England soon after British settlement at Port Jackson and immediately proved very popular. With the passing of time many different species were introduced into not only England but also to many European countries.

Many wattles make excellent garden subjects and a selection appears below covering a wide range of regions and conditions in Australia. A trip to your local plant nursery for advice on specific species would always be worthwhile for additional help. It is possible, also, to choose a wattle that should flower on 1 September in your area.