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What Is a Wattle Tree?

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  • Written By: Soo Owens
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2014
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The term wattle tree refers to members of the plant genus Acacia. Species within this genus can be either trees or shrubs and are also called wattles and thorn trees. The tannin in their thick leaves was first recognized in ancient times for its pharmacological properties. Some species contain organic carbon compounds called alkaloids, which can be harvested for psychoactive purposes.

Wattle tree species can be found as far south as the 43rd parallel in Tasmania, Australia as well as in Argentina. Acacias also inhabit savanna regions on some Caribbean islands, the Jordan River valley, and various parts of Europe and Southern Asia as well as desert locations in the Sinai peninsula and Africa. The plant's name changes depending on the region in which it is found, but the two most common are acacia, usually used in Africa and the Americas, and wattle, used in Australia.

The alternate name for a wattle tree, acacia, comes from the Greek word for thorn. While not every species has thorns, some, such as Acacia collinsii in Central America, do. This allows ants to live within the hollow thorns and protect the tree from any foreign invaders, whether animal or plant.

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Leaf formation is most commonly of a pinnate design, which is a feather-like arrangement in which individual leaves grow in pairs directly across from one another on both sides of a branch and continue this pattern to the end of the branch. Flowers found on wattle trees are globular and usually a shade of yellow. The flowers have a long stamen that protrudes from the five petals.

Humans have found numerous uses for acacias since antiquity. Some cultures, especially in Africa and Central America, have been known to employ the acacia as part of their traditional medicine, while others have used it in perfumes, a practice that still exists. Acacias are also prized simply for their ornamental value and harvested for their uniquely grained lumber.

The tannin found in many species of wattle tree, particularly many Australian species, is a highly sought after commodity that is employed in the field of medicine. Some wattle trees contain carbon compounds called alkaloids, which are thought to ward off predators that might otherwise harm the tree. Human societies have used these alkaloids for their psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties. This was a common practice in many tribal religions whose followers lived near the trees. Some individuals use it for recreational purposes as well.

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jcraig
Post 4

@cardsfan27 - Unfortunately there are no shrubs or trees in Antarctica, even in the most northern parts. The only life that can grow on that continent is some grass and lichen in the very most upper northern parts and not even the islands, which are close to South America support vegetation like shrubs or trees.

What I would like to know is if there are trees that grow even further South than the Wattle Tree and if so what are they?

I have to think that there are more types of trees that can survive the harsher climates going further south and that it is somewhat possible that a tree could grow very close to Antarctica or possibly even on the continent in the Northern parts, if the conditions are right and the right tree is planted.

cardsfan27
Post 3

@Emilski - I absolutely agree. These trees to my knowledge are the most Southern growing trees as I have not heard of vegetation, besides some grass and lichen, that grows south of the 50th parallel.

It is true that it is a long way from Antarctica, but this is still extremely south, thus it is very hard for something, such as a tree, to grow and thrive.

There are rain forests that grow and thrive around the 55th parallel, but the 43rd parallel is several hundred more miles south and after the 50th parallel not much can grow.

I find it amazing that these trees can grow and thrive that far down South and am really wondering if there are tree or even shrubs that can grow in Antarctica?

Emilski
Post 2

@matthewc23 - You are correct to a point about how far south this trees goes. The beginnings of Antarctica begins at about the 60th parallel and being at the 43rd parallel there is still a long way between the 43rd and Antarctica.

Since there are 69 miles in a degree that means that from the line the trees stop growing to Antarctica is over 1100 miles. I am betting that the trees stop growing at the 43rd parallel simply due to the fact that most trees cannot grow any further south than that.

Where the Wattle Tree stops growing is very far South and does look very close to Antarctica on a map, but there is still a long way to go. Now that being said one does need to look at the Wattle Tree as being one of the southern most trees and that there are not many types of trees that do in fact grow that far South.

matthewc23
Post 1

It seems to me that since this tree grows along the 43rd parallel that it is a pretty southern growing tree.

I understand that Australia and Argentina are two countries that are known for being hot, but this tree is so far down south that it seems like it is reaching the point when the weather becomes a factor and the temperature becomes lower.

I believe that Antarctica is not too far from these places and I feel like there must be a drastic climate shift if one were to go any further south and this would definitely affect the vegetation, much like the timber line on mountains.

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