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Acacia (Wattle)

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Acacia, known commonly as acacia or wattle, is a genus of shrubs and trees. The majority of Australian Acacias are not thorny. All species are pod-bearing, with sap and leaves often bearing large amounts of tannins and condensed tannins that historically found use as pharmaceuticals and preservatives.

Acacias in Australia probably evolved their fire resistance about 20 million years ago when fossilised charcoal deposits show a large increase, indicating that fire was a factor even then. With no major mountain ranges or rivers to prevent their spread, the wattles began to spread all over the continent as it dried and fires became more common. They began to form dry, open forests with species of the genera Casuarina, Eucalyptus and Callitris.

The leaves of acacias are compound pinnate in general. In some species, however, more especially in the Australian and Pacific islands species, the leaflets are suppressed, and the leaf-stalks become vertically flattened in order to serve the purpose of leaves. These are known as “phyllodes”. The vertical orientation of the phyllodes protects them from intense sunlight since with their edges towards the sky and earth they do not intercept light as fully as horizontally placed leaves. A few species lack leaves or phyllodes but instead possess cladodes, modified leaf-like photosynthetic stems functioning as leaves.

The small flowers have five very small petals, almost hidden by the long stamens, and are arranged in dense, globular or cylindrical clusters; they are yellow or cream-colored in most species, whitish in some, or even purple or red. Acacia flowers have more than ten stamens.

The plants often bear spines, especially those species growing in arid regions. These sometimes represent branches that have become short, hard, and pungent, though they sometimes represent leaf-stipules.

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