The strong winds of winter often play havoc with our quicker growing trees. Because they grow so rapidly, they also, often, grow quite weakly.
Those most vulnerable, and commonly used in our gardens, are eucalyptus, pines, false peppers and acacias – or mimosa as they are commonly called. This doesn´t mean we shouldn´t use them as they are immensely useful for quick shelter, shade and privacy. But if they do split or break, don´t be too surprised and don´t worry about it too much! Even a low break can be cut clean and, because the root system is well established, the tree will quickly regenerate. It may end up more bush-like than tree-shaped but that´s not always a disaster and can open up other possibilities!
Given that there are some 1300 species of acacia, I always feel it´s a pity that there aren´t more on offer here because they are so well suited to our climate. In 2005 some acacias were reclassified but I suspect they´ll long be known by their original name. The bulk come from Australia and the Far East and are mainly thornless whereas the African ones are more commonly very spiny to deter some hefty grazers. Some species have a symbiotic relationship with ants – nectar in exchange for protection. Even elephants and giraffe are deterred by swarms of biting ants!
Because the trees are so tough and useful, planting projects are afoot in really poor ground in many arid parts of Africa to stabilise ground – the roots of hope for many. They also provide foliage for animals, fuel for cooking, seed pods for cooking, flowers for honey, wood for furniture, tannin for treatment of leather and Arabic gum used in a multitude of processes. For the plant, this gum is used to seal wounds and prevent infection but, if you like jelly beans, soft drinks, beer, ice cream, marshmallows or chewing gum then you have certainly consumed Arabic gum. It is also used in soaps, body creams, fine water colour paints and for the adhesive on the back of our postage stamps. Acacias are believed to be the burning bush of the Bible and their wood constructed the Ark.
We currently have 5 species in stock:
Acacia dealbata, florists´mimosa. The silver wattle that we all know with lacy grey/green leaves and masses of yellow powder-puff flowers in winter exuding a musky smell on sunny days. To around 12m high with a huge spread. A great summer shade provider.
Acacia cyanophylla, syn. a. saligna, the golden wattle is smaller, occasionally more shrub-like, and later flowering than the above. It has long dark green leaves and the typical bright yellow scented flowers are so prolific in springtime that they can make the branches somewhat pendulous. Very good on poor shallow soils, even sandy, and will tolerate some salinity.
Acacia longifolia, Sydney golden wattle. Bushy growth, or small tree, to perhaps 6m high, with very thin willow-like leaves and scented yellow flowers in spring. Likes similar conditions as a. cyanophylla.
Acacia floribunda, syn. a. retinoides, or gossamer wattle for its very pale yellow to white flowers. A very large tree (to 15m) with thin leaves and a late winter flowering of scented flowers.
Acacia baileyana purpura, Cootamundra wattle. Lovely grey lacy foliage burgundy flushed with yellow fluffy scented flowers in early spring. It makes a small tree, to approx. 7m high. An award winner and very beautiful.
Do remember that the large amounts of pollen exuded from all acacias can cause problems for allergy sufferers and they are messy trees/shrubs so never plant them near swimming pools.
But acacias are one of the largest and most diverse groups of trees and shrubs on earth and with good reason. Their graceful silhouettes adorn African grasslands providing sustenance and stabilising ground; their Australian cousins, smothered in blossom, give us beautiful shade trees. Acacias are truly unforgettable.
Lorraine Cavanagh owns the specialist garden centre Viveros Florena, Competa, Malaga (garden centre, designers & landscapers) and is author of the best-selling Mediterranean Garden Plants and Citrus, The Zest of Life. Both are on sale at the garden centre or on-line through our web page.-
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