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What makes a wattle

Wattles can be very different from each other. One species may look quite unlike another species of acacia until that is……….they flower!

Wattle flowers are remarkably similar - fluffy and normally yellow and lots of them.

The blossoms come in balls or rods, attached in ones or two, but can also appear as great yellow cascades (called racemes). If you look closely at a wattle blossom (you will normally need to use a magnifying glass) you will see that it is made up of many tiny individual flowers. Each flower is as perfectly formed as, for example, a large showy Hibiscus flower.

How different can wattles be?

You can't tell a wattle by what appears to be its leaves because the foliage may be

  • feathery like Acacia baileyana (Cootamundra Wattle) or
  • broad and flat like Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood Wattle) or
  • narrow and round in section like Acacia rigens (Needle Wattle)
  • absent like Acacia aphylla (Leafless Rock Wattle)

In fact, only the species with feathery foliage have true leaves. The 'leaves' on most other wattles are structurally not leaves at all, but flattened leaf stalks known as 'phyllodes' that function in the same way as a leaf. Some phyllodes can tear your eye out or make you bleed if you get stabbed by one, they can hook you and hold you, while others are so soft and gentlethat they can soothe you to sleep as the wind whistles through them. Phyllodes come in all shapes and sizes: needles, spades, forks and spoons, short and long, big and small, thin and fat, and lots more.

There are lots of different shapes of fantastic fabulous fascinating phyllodes!

You can't tell a wattle by its size or by the way it grows because it might look like a

  • tree like Acacia elata (Cedar Wattle) or a
  • shrub like Acacia iteaphylla (Flinders Ranges Wattle) or a
  • creeper like Acacia albizioides, a woody vine from Cape York

BUT

you can always tell a wattle by its flowers with their fluffy stamens that

  • may form into a ball-shaped globular head like in Acacia acinacea (Gold Dust Wattle)
  • or may form into rod-shaped cylindrical spike like Acacia aneura (Mulga)

AND

  • most wattles have one or more tiny glands on their leaves or along the upper edge of their phyllodes (you will normally need a magnifying glass to see these glands)

AND

  • all wattles develop pods from their flower.

These pods can be long and thin like Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle), short and flat like Acacia suaveolens (Sweet Scented Wattle). Fluted ones, twisted ones, some folded like concertinas, long loopy necklaces or wide bracelets. Some are hairy as a caterpillar, others smooth, pencil thin or short and fat, like a little sausage. Those seedpods!

Wattle pods contain beautiful shiny hard black seeds, each with a long or short attachment. The seeds usually have a little fleshy outgrowth called an aril. These arils are commonly white (ants love these) but they may be brightly coloured to attract birds, for example, yellow like in Acacia colei (Cole's Wattle) or scarlet red like in Acacia cyclops (Western Coastal Wattle). The seeds are very tough, they have a very hard seed coat which is impervious to water and they can last a long time in the soil and still germinate. Sixty eight years long is what has been measured so far, even with a dash of salt in the water. They're tough! If they do eventually germinate, usually after a fire or some sort of mechanical disturbance like graders along roadverges, the first leaves to sprout are always feathery. The leaves may change completely as the seedling grows. Some retain their feathery foliage once a grown up tree, others replace them with leaf like phyllodes.

Wattle you know wattle you do?

  • Wattles are tough - how old can wattle seeds be and still be able to germinate?
  • Obtain a hand lens and look at a single wattle flower. Draw what you see. Can you find glands on wattle 'leaves'(phyllodes)?
  • At school examine a single ball or spike under a stereomicroscope. Locate the floral parts.
  • Is your wattle flower a fluffy wattle boy?
  • How many phyllode types can you find - draw shapes and nerves.
  • Pour boiling water over some wattle seeds and let soak. What happens to these seeds? Plant these swollen seeds in a pot of soil and see the pinnate leaves soon grow. Record their growth over a month, and record diagrams in a book.
  • Plant your wattles on Wattle Day!

 

Page last updated: Thursday 15 December 2016