Nature’s Wattle Festival
|The Golden Way - apologies for the poor picture quality in these. Only had my phone with me and it doesn't seem to capture the true vibrance and colour|
I may have missed the main blossom season, but on Sunday I went to Knocklofty – a nearby bushland reserve which lies a little higher up the mountain and where there were still quite a few wattles in bloom. Though the larger, showier Silver Wattles were already in decline, it was a chance for some of the more subtle ones to shine.
It was a glorious sunny morning and
everyone seemed to have the same idea. Families with children were out and
about, also the joggers and dogs walking their owners. Birds sang. I heard parrots in the
trees - Kookaburras, mournful crows and a bird that sounded like it was saying “Get
a job.” I really wanted to try to catch the sound of the “Pobblebonk” frogs but their ponds were
already dry. Lovely as they sound, I hope the Kookaburras -an introduced species, weren't responsible for their absence.
Some Australian communities have been holding Wattle Days and Wattle Festivals - usually on or around September 1, since 1899. At around this time patriotic sentiment was
reaching fever pitch. Before Federation in 1901, Australia was just a collection of separate colonies administered directly by the Crown, but from around the 1850's onwards Australians began to see themselves as a single people and as having a separate identity.
In keeping with the mood, Australian flora started being appreciated in its own right, rather than being regarded as an inferior cousin of European flora. It began to appear on household objects such as tapestries, stained glass windows and commemorative items. Our sports teams have been wearing the wattle's green and gold since the late 1800s. In 1912, 11 years after Federation, the wattle became part of Australia's Coat of Arms.
And why not? In some quarters Wattles symbolise hope, rebirth and the coming of spring. Elsewhere they are said to bring good luck and spiritual energy to those who possess them.
Australia's 1000 Wattles
Of the world’s 1350 acacias or wattle species, 1000 are found in Australia. Growing almost everywhere, it’s little wonder that they are Australia’s national floral emblem. Tasmania has only around twenty species and of these only four are unique to Tasmania. I don’t profess to be able recognise most of them, however the Golden Wattle, the Silver Wattle and the Blackwood are commonly found species and all three seem to be flowering today, although black wattles aren’t supposed to until October – November. The scent is sublime.
There is also one which I have never seen before – a sort of weeping prickly one – no, not the shrub we call Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata) -the flowers are smaller and more profuse and the "leaves" are much denser, which has given me a challenge. It doesn’t even feature in my guide to the Flowers and Plants of Tasmania. Perhaps the Field Naturalists will be able to help me out.
|My mystery wattle - shrub -like with dense weeping prickly fronds|
|Prickly Moses is a smaller shrub with a light complement of very sharp thorns|
Wattles in Nature
Wattles are surprisingly useful, both in nature and to humans. In nature they are the early colonisers – among the first to regenerate after fire – in fact, they need fire or heat to germinate well and they grow very fast making them ideal "nurse" stock for other species by providing not only shade and shelter, but nutrients as well. Because wattles are leguminous, their root nodules fix the nitrogen which other plants need to grow. Once established, they bind soils against erosion and provide food and habitat for native animals such as birds, insects, small mammals and wallabies.
|The last sprigs of Silver Wattle with it's distinctive feathery leaves. It can grow to 30m|
Aboriginal people used Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) for many things from making and gluing wooden handles on stone axes, to using the gum for drinks and the bark for medicinal purposes.* According to Bush Tucker man Errol, Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) seeds were ground into a flour after being heat treated or sometimes turned into a kind of popcorn.
· Medicinal uses are mentioned for interest only since we do not know about their efficacy, dosage or processing.
Early settlers found Silver Wattle useful for dyeing and tanning and used the wood and gum for making small furniture items, pegs and even heels for shoes.
According to a 1970s account from NSW, wattle was also used to build wattle and daub huts. These days small quantities are used to make wood pulp and farmers grow them for quick windbreaks, but the plant is still grown for tannin in South Africa.
|A small shrub -like wattle, not unlike the Blackwood but with narrower phyllodes, possibly Acacia genistifolia|
Alas, wattles also have a few downsides. Firstly, apart from Blackwoods, they aren’t very long lived – usually only 7 -10 years, after which
they can easily topple over in the wind or after heavy rain. For this reason it isn’t advisable to
grow them too close to homes or power lines, especially as under the right
conditions, they can grow very tall. Roots of some species can show a preference
for drains and breaking up footpaths, so they aren’t favoured as street trees either,
though they are wonderful for larger spaces such as public parks, farms and of course, in bushland restoration.
A bit of folk wisdom has it that it’s bad luck to bring wattle into the house. The only reason I can think of for that is that unless specially preserved, the flowers die almost as soon as they are picked, their golden glory gone for good.
I haven’t been able to find out much information about Black Wattle – a matter further complicated by the fact that the name refers to several different species in Australia, depending on where you go. The one commonly called that in Tasmania is Acacia mearnsii. This only grows to around 10 metres and it is most easily recognised by its rougher, dark brown to black trunk and its lighter coloured flowers (see image at below), whereas the Silver Wattle has light grey trunks and smooth bark.
|Most likely Black Wattle by it's darker trunk and lighter flowers|
|A Blackwood showing off its leathery "leaves" which protect it against drought|
Blackwood trees (Acacia melanoxylon) can live up to 150 years and grow to 40 metres in height. They grow throughout eastern Australia and are easily distinguished by what looks like flat leathery leaves, but which are in fact phyllodes – modified stems which predate the development of leaves by several millennia. They also help with drought resistance. These trees can grow to 50 metres in height and produce a hard, highly prized timber ranging in colour from pale straw to almost black which is used for cabinetry and fine furniture. Because of its beautiful markings and other attributes it is also often used to make speciality products such as musical instruments or gunstocks. Australian Aboriginal people used the timber for shields and spear throwers and obtained an analgesic from it. One curious use was for fishing. They made a poisonous concoction from twigs and bark which they applied to spear tips which were then used to kill fish.
Due to its hardiness, it has been planted widely in other countries even to the point where it has become a pest in places such as South Africa, Portugal, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and California.
|This Longleaf Caterpillar Wattle (Acacia Longifolia) with sharp narrow phyllodes like Prickly Moses may not be a local though it's often seen elsewhere in Tasmania|
Meanwhile, a member of the Friends of Knocklofty Bushcare group has resolved my Wattle mystery. Apparently it's Acacia Riceana which is not a native of this area. On the other hand, they have presented me with a new one. There are at least three or four other wattles in the Reserve which I haven't seen or heard of.
Happy First Day of Spring Southerners!