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What's in a name - from Acacia to Wattle

Acacias are commonly known as wattles in Australia. The old Anglo-Saxon word 'wattle'comes from the quick and handy house construction method of the early English settlers.

Branches and saplings were cut and woven onto wooden frames to create panels called wattles. This wattle-work was then daubed with mud and dung to fill the gaps. A hut could be built in a day and dried out that night by burning a fire inside. Wattle-and-daub huts were common in the early days of settlement in Australia. Various types of acacias were ideal for this work because the plants were plentiful and their cut stems were so flexible. Sydney the city began with a wattle branch!

The term 'wattle' is not the only common name used to describe acacias. Unfortunately though, sometimes the same common name is used for more than one species and this can lead to confusion. The only way to be sure to not confuse people is to use the scientific names. Common names (like the scientific names) can refer to a particular feature of the plant, a place, a person, or be an aboriginal word. Here are a few weird and wonderful common names that have been used for various wattles from different parts of Australia

Wattle common names and botanical names
Common name Botanical name
Black Wattle is used for many species, including Acacia mearnsii
Blackwood Acacia melanoxylon
Brigalow Acacia harpophylla
Coojong Acacia saligna
Cootamundra Wattle Acacia baileyana
Dagger Wattle Acacia siculiformis
Dawson's Wattle Acacia dawsonii
Dead-finish, Kurara Acacia tetragonophylla
Elegant wattle, Gundabluey, and many more Acacia victoriae
Golden wattle Acacia pycnantha
Horse Mulga, Bowgada, and more Acacia ramulosa
Jam, Raspberry Jam Acacia acuminata
Mulga Acacia aneura
Myall Acacia pendula
Old Man Wodjil Acacia resinimarginea
Silver Wattle is used for a few species, including Acacia dealbata
Stinking Wattle, Gidgee Acacia cambagei
Wait-a-While Acacia colletioides
Western Myall Acacia papyrocarpa
Yarran is used for a few species, including Acacia omalophylla

The origin of the scientific name 'Acacia' is not absolutely free from doubt, but it is ultimately derived from the Greek word 'ake' meaning a point. This word refers to the very long sharp spines that are found on many of those spikey acacias which grow around Egypt, Lebanon and North Africa, and which were the first species to be named. Although some Australian wattles are prickly they lack the enormous spines found on their African relatives.

Mud daubing with a spikey wattle would not have started Sydney so easily!

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Wattle you know wattle you do?

  • How could have a house been constructed cheaply and quickly in Australia during the days of early settlement?
  • What is meant by 'wattle and daub'? Find a picture of a wattle and daub hut. What do some African acacias have that can be enormous? Why wouldn't the african wattles be good for wattle and daubing? Make up a bush recipe for wattle and daub huts. Draw a picture, or even try and make a little one!


Page last updated: Thursday 22 June 2023