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Acacia: Key Facts

Acacia is a broad group that includes hundreds of different species. They come from the pea family, also known as Fabacae. Here are some key facts about this beautiful tree.

Botanical Name    Acacia
Common Names    Wattles, acacia
Type of Plant    Deciduous shrubs, small trees, or large trees
Origin    Native to Africa and Australasia; can be found in southern parts of United States and throughout the world
Sun Requirements    Full sun
Water Requirements    Drought-tolerant. Water occasionally until well-established.
Soil    Prefers well-draining, sandy, or gravelly soil.
Bloom Time    Winter – early spring
Common Pests    Scale insects, caterpillars, beetles, mealybugs, psylids

What Are the Characteristics of Acacia Trees?

While acacia species vary wildly in size, shape, and native habitat, they do share some common features. These characteristics include:

  • Large seed pods: Acacia seed pods are hard to miss and dangle from the branches. When acacias are ready to reproduce, the seed pods will turn brown and split open before falling off the tree.
  • Small pinnate leaves: Pinnate leaves look like feathers in that they have smaller leaves on two sides of a common stalk. Some varieties of ferns have this type of leaf.
  • Thorns: Most species have sharp thorns that are meant to protect the plant from being eaten by animals. In Africa, for example, Acacia trees have long barbs to deter giraffes, rodents, and insects from munching on their leaves.
  • Flowers: The flowers of acacia plants are often small and fragrant. They tend to grow in compact groups that are spherical or cylindrical. Most varieties grow yellow flowers, but some are white.
  • Stinging ants: In the African savannah, you can be sure you’ve found an acacia tree if you some across aggressive, stinging ants. These ants live among the thorns of acacia trees and protect the tree’s leaves from being eaten by other creatures. In return, the acacia tree provides shelter and the nectar that the ants need to survive.
  • Toxic Leaves: In the wild, they also protect themselves from plant-eaters by emitting a toxic chemical from their leaves. Once an animal starts to eat the leaves, the tree will release a chemical that renders the leaves inedible. This chemical signal reaches other acacia trees in the area as well, which prompts them to release the chemical.

How Long Do Acacia Trees Live?

When it comes to trees, you’ll often notice that they are either fast-growing and short-lived, or slow growers with long lives. These trees grow quickly and tend to live only 20-30 years.

Since many varieties need to survive harsh conditions that include drought and wildfires, this plant needs to grow quickly to establish itself. In areas that are prone to brushfires, taller trees are more likely to withstand fire damage.

To cope with drought, acacias lay out quick-growing downward tap roots that can reach deep underground water sources. Acacia trees have many uses and are one of the most interesting trees that you can find on the planet Earth.

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