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Wattle flower – this one had a delicate perfume

Today, 1st September is National Wattle Day in Australia, as well as the first day of spring.  When the Wattle starts to flower we know spring is just around the corner.

There are about 985 different Wattle (Acacia) species in Australia with around 1,380 species worldwide. It is a very useful tree & has a very long history of being used by the indigenous Australians who used all parts of the Wattle.  We only know some of the ways the Australian Aboriginals used Wattle as much of it is passed down orally & is tribal knowledge.

The following are just some of the ways the Australian Aboriginals used Wattle.

Wattle has a significant role in Bush Medicine.  Various parts of Wattle tree were used to make cough medicine & inhalations to treat colds & flu. It was made into poultices to treat headache & backache, preparations to relieve itchy skin, ointments to treat boils & wounds & as an eye wash.  Wattle was also used to treat scabies & to remove warts.  Both the bark & roots of certain Wattles were made into bandages & to make a splint for broken bones.  Wattle smoke was used rituals & for good health.

Bush medicine is a specialized skill.  There are thousands of Wattle species, & not all are used for the same thing. Some Wattle are able to be ingested, while others are toxic.     This is not something you just go to the nearest Wattle tree, pick & prepare.

Wattle seed is high in both protein & carbohydrates.  The gum, seeds & roots were prepared for eating, either as a raw paste or roasted as a damper.  Wattle gum was eaten as a snack & made into a sweet drink when dissolved in water with nectar.

Wood from Wattle was made into a range of weapons; boomerangs, spear throwers, spear shafts & heads & shields.  Wattle doesn’t split, so made good digging sticks.  Gum from the Wattle was used to make glue to repair tools & to make traps waterproof.   Thin, pliable green stems were used to collect honey from beehives.

Some Wattle was used to poison fish in small billabongs.  The inner bark of some Wattles was perfect for making string & rope. These were also used in head decorations, ceremonial items & to make sandals. Bark was also used to create fine string for fishing nets & bags.

Wattle was used to make clap sticks, a traditional instrument. Dye was also made from Wattle. The leaves & pods produce a soapy lather & this was used for washing.

Wattle was prized as firewood as it is slow burning.  Wattle ash was mixed with the young leaves & stalks of native plants that contained nicotine & this was made into chewing tobacco.  Wattle was also used as a seasonal indicator telling the people when food was available in an area.

It’s an amazing plant as well as being beautiful, especially when in flower.  Unfortunately, Wattles trees are short-lived, but they do grow & spread easily & many species tolerate dry conditions. The Wattle species Acacia pycnantha is the floral emblem of Australia & features on the coat-of-arms.

I wrote about the history of National Wattle Day last year with a range of different facts about this wonderful plant.  http://bit.ly/UfzUVL

If you are interested in making Wattle perfume from a simple recipe published in 1896 see – http://bit.ly/OBaSwr

Wattle flower – this one had a much stronger perfume than the one above

Wattle features on the Australian Coat of Arms

“The first ‘national’ Wattle Day was celebrated in Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide on the First of September 1910.” – so says a really good history of National Wattle Day from the Wattle Day Association.  http://www.wattleday.asn.au/

I wondered why we have a day to honour the Wattle.  After a bit of research I collected these Wattle facts.  I didn’t know many of them so I hope you find them interesting.

  • Their botanical name is Acacia.
  • There are at least 950 varieties of Wattle indigenous to Australia.
  • Another 350 varieties grow in Africa & America.
  • Botanist George Benthan was the first to formally document the Wattle & he did so in the London Journal of Botany in 1842.
  • The Australian Cricket team wore a green & gold cap when they toured England in 1899. These became the official colours for subsequent cricket teams.  Some of our Olympic team wore green & gold in 1908 with the colors becoming official in 1912.  In 1928 the Australian Rugby team wore the green & gold for the first time.
  • In 1984 the Wattle’s green leaves & golden-coloured flowers were chosen as the Australian National Colours.
  • Prue Acton as the official designer for the Olympic uniforms also used the green & gold colours.  In 2008 she said the following, “Green & gold,” she insisted, “are not complementary. They do not represent the spectrum. They tire the eyes & force them to seek relief elsewhere. Worse, they’re irrelevant. My land is red-gold, is blue-violet, is ochre, is magenta-tinged & purple-shaded. My land is not green & gold. There’s no way to make them – in any version – work for us.”  Journalist John Huxley wrote in the same article, “Looking across local playing fields it would be easy to conclude she was right. The Socceroos’ present shirt is such a ghastly combination of bilious green & insipid yellow that it is a crime against fan fashion.”   Perhaps we love Wattle, but that love should be kept to the tree & not taken to clothing, particularly clothing that represents us as a country.   http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/02/28/1203788535250.html?page=fullpage
  • A sprig of Wattle is also featured on our Coat of Arms.  The Wattle flower has been our unofficial Floral Emblem since 1901 only becoming official in 1988. It symbolizes the unity & the spirit of the people of Australia.
  • The Wattle flower has adorned stamps & is also on the Order of Australia Medal, Australia’s highest award.
  • It is said that a Wattle was the first plant to flower after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
  • The flowers have a distinctive soft scent & have been used in perfumes.
  • The Wattle does not live for many years, usually only between 5 & 20 years depending on the species.  However the Western Myall (Acacia pendula) lives to 200-years or more, Western Myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) lives around 250-years.  Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) also lives for around 200-years.
  • Wattle regenerates easily after a bush fire. Rain after a fire causes seeds held in the soil to germinate.
  • Old Wattle seeds are generally viable & will grow as long as the hard casing of the seed is abraded.
  • To germinate the seeds yourself, simply soak in hot water to break the hard seed coat & plant into a seedling mix.  Replant the seedlings into larger pots before planting in the ground.
  • Wattle flowers are mostly yellow & are a collection of small ball-shaped flower clusters.   However, Acacia purpureopetala (listed as vulnerable) has mauve-pink flowers & Acacia gilbertii has white flowers. Two Victorian Wattles that were only discovered recently have red & orange flowers each. Scarlet Blaze (Acacia leprosa) discovered in 1995 has red flowers. It has since become Victoria’s Centenary of Federation floral emblem. Hedge Wattle (Acacia paradoxa) discovered in 2007 has orange flowers.
  • The bark is good for making tannin.
  • The early settlers to Australia used Wattle & daub to make their homes.
  • The wood is also prized by furniture & cabinetmakers.
  • The Mulga Wattle (Acacias aneura) has a much harder wood than other Wattles & is traditionally used by indigenous Australians to make musical instruments, tools & weaponry.
  • Wattle seed is bush tucker & is often used in bread.
  • Wattles are reasonably drought tolerant.  They grow reasonably fast & this makes them useful for erosion control or for when you want a quick effect in your garden. Planted together they make good screening. They tolerate pruning.
  • Most Wattles grow to between 4-10 metres tall.  There are however, some much taller varieties.  White Marblewood (Acacia bakeri) is the tallest recorded at nearly 50-metres (164.5-feet) tall. Imagine this in flower! Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) can reach 30-metres (100-feet).  Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima) is really a low groundcover.
  • Some Wattle species in Australia are classified ‘invasive.’  In South Africa the Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia) & the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) are regarded as a weed.
  • One species Georgina Gidgee (Acacia georginae) is very poisonous & will kill sheep & cattle.

So happy National Wattle Day on this first day of spring.  The Wattle Day Association has an extensive history of the Wattle in Australia.  See –  http://www.wattleday.asn.au/

A Wattle in Steel Park was in flower 3 weeks ago

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