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Botanical name

Common name

Aboriginal name

Description

Characteristic features

Distribution and ecology

Flowering and fruiting period

Variation

Affinities

Notes

Conservation status

Origin of name

References

Acacia tetragonophylla

Botanical name

Acacia tetragonophylla F. Muell., Fragm. 4: 3 (1863)

Common name

Kurara (preferred common name), Curara, Dead Finish and Prickly Wattle

Aboriginal name

Jilkuru, Jilgoru or Jilguru (Kurrama), Jilgurra or Gurarra (Banyjima), Kurarra (Putijarra), Pirtiyarrangu (Martuthunira), Birdiyarrangu (Thalanyji), Nglahiyaka or Ngarliyaka (Jiwarli), Kurarr (Nyangumarta) and Garruwa (Martuthunira)

Description

Diffuse, spreading, harsh, often straggly, much-branched shrubs or small trees 1-4 (-6) m tall, infrequently with a single stem. Bark grey or brown, smooth, becoming darker coloured and deeply fissured with age. Branchlets usually glabrous. Phyllodes clustered in groups of normally 2-6 on short, nodose lateral branchlets, single at the nodes on new shoots, acicular or linear, slender, usually terete to pentagonal or compressed in section, 1-5 (-7) long, (0.3-) 0.5-1.3 mm wide, rigid (except soft and pliable when young), usually glabrous, green; with 5 (rarely 7) longitudinal nerves (normally grooved between the nerves when dry); narrowed at apex into a slender, very sharp needle-like point 1-2 mm long. Inflorescences simple, 1-5 within the axil of the phyllodes; peduncles 10-30 (-38) mm long, usually glabrous; heads globular, golden, densely 50-90-flowered, occasionally anthers reddish or purple in a few heads. Flowers 5-merous; sepals free, linear-spathulate. Pods sub-moniliform (i.e. raised over seeds and slightly to markedly constricted between them), normally 4-10 (-17) cm long and 4-6 (-9) mm wide, thinly crustaceous to coriaceous or sub-woody, curved to openly 1-coiled, often twisted following dehiscence, glabrous. Seeds longitudinal in the pods, ellipsoid, 4-5.5 mm long, very dark brown to black; funicle bright orange-red or yellow and encircling the seeds.

Characteristic features

Prickly, much-branched, glabrous shrubs or small trees. Phyllodes clustered in groups of normally 2-6 (except single on new shoots), linear-subulate, usually terete, rigid, narrowed at apex into a slender, very sharp point. Inflorescences simple; peduncles long (normally 10-30 mm); heads with numerous (50-90), densely arranged, golden flowers. Pods curved to openly coiled, often twisted following dehiscence. Seeds encircled by a bright orange-red or yellow funicle.

Distribution and ecology

A very widespread species of arid and semi-arid areas in Australia, between about latitudes 21 degrees and 33 degrees south. It extends from the Pilbara region and Dongara in Western Australia, through southern Northern Territory and most of South Australia eastwards to western Queensland (near Charleville) and New South Wales (near Brewarrina). In the Pilbara A. tetragonophylla has a scattered distribution, mostly in the southern half of the region where it extends from Nanutarra east to Balfour Downs with outliers near Marble Bar. It also occurs on Thevenard Island off Onslow. Acacia tetragonophylla grows in a variety of habitats, mostly in loam or well-drained alluvial soils on floodplains or near watercourses, and in Mulga communities. Kurara does not commonly form dense thickets although it is sometimes an increaser on degraded land and it has been suggested that it is replacing Mulga (A. aneura) along with Bardi Bush (A. synchronicia) in the Fortescue Valley (Beard 1975).

Flowering and fruiting period

Pilbara plants flower from May to September with the main flush in July and August; flowering may be influenced by the adequacy of rainfall. Pods with mature seeds occur from September to December or January. The seeds often remain in the pods for a time following dehiscence, and at least a proportion of the pods remain on the plants until the next flowering period. This presentation of seeds (which possess brightly coloured arils) is said to favour their dispersal by birds (Davidson and Morton 1984); these authors also reported ants moving the seeds of this species. See O'Connell and Fox (1995) for details of seed germination treatments and viability.

Variation

The phyllodes occur singly on actively growing new shoots but with age additional phyllodes develop to form a fascicles of 2-6 phyllodes in nodose clusters This phyllode arrangement is uncommon in Australian Acacias, but is common in many Vachellia species in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Acacia tetragonophylla is normally a glabrous plant, however, on a few specimens (within the Pilbara and elsewhere, especially around Wiluna) the young branchlets, phyllodes and peduncles are sparsely puberulous with short, straight, wide-spreading, soft hairs.

Specimens with unusually broad, flat phyllodes (to about 3 mm wide) occur near North West Cape; some individuals with flat phyllodes have also been found in the Pilbara. A pendulous variant of A. tetragonophylla occurs near Adavale in Queensland (see Simmons 1987). Occasionally a few flowers on some plants have reddish or purple flowers.

Affinities

Affinities for this species are unknown, however, when the phyllodes occur singularly at the nodes (i.e. on new shoots) then the specimens may be mistaken for A. walkeri (which is rare in the Pilbara).

Notes

A hardy, drought- and frost-resistant species which regenerates from a basal root stock following fire. It is believed that the seedlings are moderate to fast-growing and the mature plant slow-growing; the life span is thought to be between 50 and 100 years (see O'Connell and Fox 1995 for references and additional biological information). In Queensland Allen (1949) notes that only a small amount of seed is set despite heavy flowering; Cunningham et al. (1981) note that in New South Wales numerous seedlings have been observed during a sequence of good years.

Kurara has poor to moderate nutritive value, crude protein content is 6-16%, and moderate palatability. It is regarded as a drought standby fodder in Western and central Australia, but according to Everist (1969) and Cunningham et al. (1981) because the phyllodes are shed during drought they are not available when needed. Its fodder value is enhanced because, unlike many other Acacias, the new growth is produced on the lower branches after phyllodes have dropped (e.g. due to drought) or have been grazed. Most of the above information is taken from Askew and Mitchell (1978) and Mitchell and Wilcox (1988).

Phyllodes, bark and roots have been used medicinally by traditional aborigines of the arid zone to treat superficial skin lesions, for bandaging of fractures of the limbs, as a treatment for dysentery, as a cough medicine, and to remove warts. The seed is reported to have been consumed, usually eaten green after being cooked in the pods, while edible grubs are found in the roots. The wood is finely grained and smells of violets when first cut; it has considerable use for making tools and artifacts (boomerangs, spear throwers, fighting sticks, punishment spears and tapping sticks) and it was favoured by early European settlers for whip handles. The above information is taken from Aboriginal Communities of the Northern Territory (1993), O'Connell and Fox (1995) and Latz (1999) where further details are given. Amongst the Kurrama people of the Pilbara Kurara wood was very important to male Elders (Jujungarli) for the making of tools and artifacts and women were not permitted to cut it (Young 2007). The bark of this species has given positive tests for alkaloids and the results of phytochemical screening are provided by Barr et al. (1988). For wildlife Kurara is an important species as it provides shelter and protection for small mammals and birds (for which the seed is a source of food). This species has commonly been used in mine site rehabilitation work in the goldfields area of Western Australia (Barrett and Jennings 1994 and Osborne et al. 1994), however, according to Rusbridge et al. (1996) the results are generally poor. Fox and Dunlop (1983) reported poor germination (50%) in Kurara which they attributed to low seed viability as a result of a thin seeds coat in this species and inappropriate hot water pre-treatments which damage the soft seeds. On account if its prickly nature this species is not well-suited for ornamental plantings. It does, however, have use for low shelter belt plantings or for soil stabilisation in inland areas.

Conservation status

Not considered rare or endangered.

Origin of name

The botanical name is derived from the Greek tetragonos (four angled, square) and phyllon (a leaf) and refers to the cross-sectional shape of the phyllodes. In reality, however, the phyllodes are normally rounded to pentagonal in section; they only superficially look quadrangular!

References

Aboriginal Communities of the Northern Territory (1993). Traditional Aboriginal Medicines in the Northern Territory of Australia. pp. 651. (Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory of Australia: Darwin.)

Allen, G.H. (1949). Notes on plants of south western Queensland. Mimeo. pp. 83.

Askew, K. and Mitchell, A.S. (1978). The fodder trees and shrubs of the Northern Territory. Extension bulletin No. 16. pp. 84. (CSIRO Division of Primary Industry: Alice Springs.)

Barr, A., Chapman, J. and Jennings, B.H. (1988). Traditional Bush Medicines: An Aboriginal pharmacopoeia. pp. 256. (Greenhouse publications: Richmond, Victoria)

Barrett, G.J. and Jennings, B.H. (1994). Use of native seeds on the Western Australian goldfields. In: S.B. Bellairs and C. Bell (eds) National Workshop in Native Seed Biology for Revegetation - Proceedings. (Australian Centre for Minesite Rehabilitation Research, and Chambers of Mines and Energy of Western Australia: Perth.)

Beard, J.S. (1975). Vegetation survey of Western Australia - Pilbara. (University of Western Australia Press: Nedlands.)

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Miltnorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1981). Plants of western New South Wales. pp. 766. (Government Printing Office: Sydney.)

Davidson, D.W. and Morton, S.R. (1984). Dispersal adaptations of some Acacia species in the Australian arid zone. Ecology 65(4): 1038-1051.

Everist, S.L. (1969). Use of fodder trees and shrubs. Advisory leaflet No. 1024. pp. 44. (Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Division of Plant Industry: Brisbane.)

Fox, J.E.D. and Dunlop, J.N. (1983). Acacia species of the Hamersley Ranges, Pilbara Region of Western Australia. Mulga Research Centre. Occasional Report No. 3. pp. 94. (Western Australian Institute of Technology: Bentley.)

Latz, P.K. (1999). Pocket Bushtucker: a field guide to the plants of Central Australia and their traditional uses. pp. 215. (IAD Press: Alice Springs.)

Mitchell, A.A. and Wilcox, D.G. (1988). Arid shrubland plants of Western Australia. pp. 478. (University of Western Australia in association with the Department of Agriculture Western Australia: Perth.)

O'Connell, K.A. and Fox, J.E.D. (1995). Ecological notes on Acacia species. Acacia tetragonophylla F. Muell. Mulga Research Centre Journal 12: 57-64.

Osborne, J.M., Brearley, D.B. and C.N., M. (1994). Ecosystem development on four rehabilitation trials near the Placer (Granny Smith) operation. Report for Placer (Granny Smith) Pty Ltd (Curtin university of Technology: Perth, Western Australia.)

Rusbridge, S., Bradley, G. and Bradley, G. (1996). Plant identification handbook for land rehabilitation in the Goldfields of Western Australia. pp. 114. (Goldfields Land Rehabilitation Group: Kalgoorlie.)

Simmons, M.H. (1987). Acacias of Australia. Volume 1, Revised Edition. pp. 327. (Nelson: Melbourne.)

Young, L. (2007). Lola Young: Medicine Woman and Teacher. Complied by Anna Vitenbergs. pp. 160. (Fremantle Arts Centre Press: Fremantle.)