Golden Wattle—Welcoming Spring Down Under
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN AUSTRALIA
THE blossom that graces these pages is no ordinary flower. It is famous and beloved in Australia. In fact, since 1912, Australia’s coat of arms has been emblazoned with it, and in 1988 it was declared the official floral emblem of Australia. It has also been featured on Australian coins and stamps. Why the popularity?
The answer may be found, in part, in a poem written by Veronica Mason and published in 1929. After describing the somber “olive-green and brown and grey” that dominate the late winter landscape, the poem announces joyously: “But now the Spring has come this way / With blossoms for the Wattle.”
Nearly everybody, it seems, loves the news that spring is imminent. Down under in Australia, spring bursts forth while autumn is creeping over the Northern Hemisphere. The southern continent enjoys an early signal that spring is on the way—the sudden blooming of the golden wattle. Thus, every August schoolchildren may be heard reciting Mason’s poem. And in 1992 the governor-general of Australia declared September 1 National Wattle Day.
Of course, the golden wattle does more than just announce the spring—it does so with grace and beauty. Mason’s verse speaks of “dainty, curts’ying Wattle,” referring to the way the blossom-laden branches bow and sway in the spring breezes. Wattle, however, is not the official name of this tree. It actually belongs to an interesting family that is prominent in warm climates around the world.
A Hardy and Famous Family
The botanical name for the golden wattle is Acacia pycnantha. A shrub or small tree, it ranges from 12 to 24 feet [4 to 8 meters] in height. But there are some 600 to 1,000 types of acacias in Australia, where they are called wattles. In fact, more than half the acacia varieties known in the world are found in Australia. In Europe and America, the acacia is often called mimosa. Another variety of acacia is mentioned frequently in the Bible. God directed that the ark of the covenant and parts of the tabernacle be made of acacia wood.—Exodus 25:10; 26:15, 26.
A famous member of the acacia family is the umbrella-shaped variety found in Africa. The foliage of that acacia is a favorite food of giraffes. In fact, they would strip the acacia bare were it not for a unique partnership between the tree and a type of ant. The tree provides the ant with a home and nectar to feed on. The ant, in turn, stings the voracious giraffe, prodding the gentle giant to move on and browse at another tree. Such partnerships provide remarkable evidence of intelligent design, do they not?
Australia’s acacia varieties do not have any giraffes to threaten them. Still, they do face enemies, such as drought, and for this they have an effective defense. The acacia seed’s outer layer is so tough that it has to be damaged in some way before water can penetrate it and growth can begin. So tough are these seeds that gardeners have to steep them in boiling water so that the swollen pods will germinate when planted. In the wild an acacia seed may lie dormant for decades! Finally, a bushfire will cause the tough little seed to germinate. Hence, even during the severest of droughts, there is an acacia “seed bank” lying safe in the ground, just waiting to regenerate.
For years now, some hardy Australian wattles have been exported to Africa for use as a potential food source in times of drought. A big advantage is that these acacias can survive in harsh, infertile soils. Certain varieties can even grow in sand dunes! These trees bind the soil together, fix nitrogen into it, and act as windbreaks, thereby improving the environment for other plants as well.
The Versatile Wattle
There are scientists who view certain wattle seeds as a potential food crop, noting their high protein content and comparing them with other cereals in terms of food value. Roasted, the seeds have a pleasing, nutty taste; when boiled, certain varieties taste like lentils. Wattle seeds have been ground into flour and made into bread and even pasta. Some varieties of wattle yield up to 22 pounds [10 kg] of seed a year.
The fragrant wattle flower is used in perfume making. In addition, the acacia tree is used extensively to provide animal fodder and to control soil erosion. But we have barely mentioned the usefulness of acacia wood.
Early Australian Aborigines made boomerangs from acacia wood. One variety of wattle, Acacia acuminata, has been called raspberry jam because its timber when freshly cut gives off an odor like that of crushed raspberries. But it was the use of acacias in construction that gave rise to their being called wattle.
The term “wattle” is an ancient one. It originally applied to the wood used in the medieval Anglo-Saxon building method known as wattle and daub. Mud was layered over woven saplings, called wattles, to create walls for the building. Early Australian colonists used acacia trees for their wattle-and-daub houses. In time, the acacia trees became known by the old English name wattle, and the name has stuck.
Is it not remarkable how many uses there are for these trees? However, when springtime comes to Australia, it is not the versatility of the wattle that comes to mind. Rather, as blankets of waving, fuzzy blossoms turn the hillsides gold, hearts soar and poems spring to mind. Both the beauty and the usefulness of the tree remind many an admirer of the ingenuity and brilliance of the one who “constructed all things,” God.—Hebrews 3:4.
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
Wattle blossoms and seed pods
© Australian Tourist Commission
[Picture Credit Lines on page 15]
Wattle: © Copyright CSIRO Land and Water; stamp: National Philatelic Collection, Australia Post; emblem: Used with permission of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet