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Acacia

Topics: Flora of Argentina

Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in 1773.

Acacias are also known as thorntrees or wattles, including the yellow-fever acacia and umbrella acacias.

There are roughly 1300 species of Acacia worldwide, about 960 of them native to Australia, with the remainder spread around the tropical to warm-temperate regions of both hemispheres, including Africa, southern Asia, and the Americas.

Classification

The genus Acacia is apparently not monophyletic. This discovery has led to the breaking up of Acacia into five new genera as discussed in list of Acacia species.

In common parlance the term "acacia" is occasionally misapplied to species of the genus Robinia, which also belongs in the pea family. Robinia pseudoacacia, an American species locally known as Black locust, is sometimes called "false acacia" in cultivation in the United Kingdom.

Geography

The southernmost species in the genus are Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle), Acacia longifolia (Coast Wattle or Sydney Golden pattle), Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle), and Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood), reaching 4330' S in Tasmania, Australia, while Acacia caven (Espinillo Negro) reaches nearly as far south in northeastern Chubut Province of Argentina. Australian species are usually called wattles, while African and American species tend to be known as acacias.

Acacia albida, Acacia tortilis and Acacia iraqensis can be found growing wild in the Sinai desert and the Jordan valley. It is found in the savanna vegetation of the tropical continental climate.

Description

The leaves of acacias are compound pinnate in general. In some species, however, more especially in the Australian and Pacific islands species, the leaflets are suppressed, and the leaf-stalks (petioles) become vertically flattened, and serve the purpose of leaves. These are known as phyllodes. The vertical orientation of the phyllodes protects them from intense sunlight, as with their edges towards the sky and earth they do not intercept light so fully as horizontally placed leaves. A few species (such as Acacia glaucoptera) lack leaves or phyllodes altogether, but possess instead cladodes, modified leaf-like photosynthetic stems functioning as leaves.

The small flowers have five very small petals, almost hidden by the long stamens, and are arranged in dense globular or cylindrical clusters; they are yellow or cream-colored in most species, whitish in some, even purple (Acacia purpureapetala) or red (Acacia leprosa Scarlet Blaze).

The plants often bear spines, especially those species growing in arid regions. These sometimes represent branches which have become short, hard and pungent, or sometimes leaf-stipules. Acacia armata is the Kangaroo-thorn of Australia and Acacia erioloba is the Camelthorn of Africa.

Symbiosis

In the Central American Acacia sphaerocephala, Acacia cornigera, and Acacia collinsii (collectively known as the bullthorn acacias), the large thorn-like stipules are hollow and afford shelter for ants, which feed on a secretion of sap on the leaf-stalk and small, lipid-rich food-bodies at the tips of the leaflets called Beltian bodies; in return they usually protect the plant against herbivores. Some species of ants will also fight off competing plants around the acacia, cutting off the offending plant's leaves with their jaws and ultimately killing it, while other ant species will do nothing to benefit their host.

Pests

In Australia, Acacia species are sometimes used as food plants by the larvae of hepialid moths of the genus Aenetus including A. ligniveren. These burrow horizontally into the trunk then vertically down. Other Lepidoptera larvae which have been recorded feeding on Acacia include Brown-tail, Endoclita malabaricus and Turnip Moth. The leaf-mining larvae of some bucculatricid moths also feed on Acacia: Bucculatrix agilis feeds exclusively on Acacia horrida and Bucculatrix flexuosa feeds exclusively on Acacia nilotica.

Acacias contain a number of organic compounds that defend them from pests and grazing animals.

Uses

Food uses

Acacia seeds are often used for food and a variety of other products.

In Burma, Laos and Thailand, the feathery shoots of Acacia pennata are used in soups, curries, omelettes, and stir-fries.

Honey made by bees using the acacia flower as forage is considered a delicacy, appreciated for its mild flowery taste, soft running texture and glass like appearance.

It is listed as an ingredient in soft drinks Fresca and Barq's Root Beer. Lakerol [*], the refreshment pastille originated in Sweden list as an ingredient. As do Altoids peppermints and Wrigley's Eclipse chewing gum.

Gum

Various species of acacia yield gum. True gum arabic is the product of Acacia senegal, abundant in dry tropical West Africa from Senegal to northern Nigeria.

Acacia arabica is the gum-Arabic tree of India, but yields a gum inferior to the true gum-Arabic.

Medicinal uses

Many Acacia species have important uses in traditional medicine. Most all of the uses have been shown to have a scientific basis, since chemical compounds found in the various species have medicinal effects.

In Ayurvedic medicine, Acacia nilotica is considered a remedy that is helpful for treating premature ejaculation.

A 19th century Ethiopian medical text describes a potion made from an Ethiopian species of Acacia (known as grar) mixed with the root of the tacha, then boiled, as a cure for rabies.Richard Pankhurst, An Introduction to the Medical History of Ethiopia , p. 97

An astringent medicine, called catechu or cutch, is procured from several species, but more especially from Acacia catechu, by boiling down the wood and evaporating the solution so as to get an extract.

Ornamental uses

A few species are widely grown as ornamentals in gardens; the most popular perhaps is Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle), with its attractive glaucous to silvery leaves and bright yellow flowers; it is erroneously known as "mimosa" in some areas where it is cultivated, through confusion with the related genus Mimosa.

Another ornamental acacia is Acacia xanthophloea (Fever Tree).

Southern European florists use Acacia baileyana, Acacia dealbata, Acacia pycnantha and Acacia retinodes as cut flowers and the common name there for them is mimosa.

Ornamental species of acacia are also used by homeowners and landscape architects for home security purposes. The sharp thorns of some species deter unauthorized persons from entering private properties, and may prevent break-ins if planted under windows and near drainpipes. The aesthetic characteristics of acacia plants, in conjunction with their home security qualities, makes them a considerable alternative to artificial fences and walls.

Paints

The ancient Egyptians used Acacia in paints.

Perfume

Acacia farnesiana is used in the perfume industry due to its strong fragrance. The use of Acacia as a fragrance dates back centuries. In The Bible, burning of acacia wood as a form of incense is mentioned several times.

Symbolism and ritual

The Acacia is used as a symbol in Freemasonry, to represent purity and endurance of the soul, and as funerary symbolism signifying resurrection and immortality.

Several parts of Acacia are used to make incense for rituals. Acacia is used in incense mainly in India, Nepal, Tibet and China. Smoke from Acacia bark is thought to keep demons and ghosts away and to put the gods in a good mood. Roots and resin from Acacia are combined with rhododendron, acorus, cytisus, salvia and some other components of incense. Both people and elephants like an alcoholic beverage made from acacia fruit.

According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, the Acacia tree may be the burning bush which Moses encountered in the desert

In the Quran 56:29, the acacia are mentioned as the flowers that companions in heaven will be wearing.

Tannin

The bark of various Australian species, known as wattles, is very rich in tannin and forms an important article of export; important species include Acacia pycnantha (Golden Wattle), Acacia decurrens (Tan Wattle), Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle) and Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle).

*Inner bark

Black Wattle is grown in plantations in South Africa. Most Australian acacia species introduced to South Africa have become an enormous problem, due to their naturally aggressive propagation. The pods of Acacia nilotica (under the name of neb-neb), and of other African species are also rich in tannin and used by tanners.

Wood

Most acacia species are used for valuable timber; such are Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood) from Australia, which attains a great size; its wood is used for furniture, and takes a high polish; and Acacia omalophylla , which yields a fragrant timber, used for ornamental purposes. Acacia seyal is thought to be the Shittah-tree of the Bible, which supplied shittim-wood. According to the Book of Exodus, this was used in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant. Acacia koa from the Hawaiian Islands and Acacia heterophylla from Reunion island are both excellent timber trees.

In Indonesia (mainly in Sumatra) and in Malaysia (mainly in Sarawak) plantations of Acacia mangium are being established to supply pulpwood to the paper industry.

Phytochemistry of acacias

Alkaloids

As mentioned previously, Acacias contain a number of organic compounds that defend them from pests and grazing animals. Many of these compounds are psychoactive in humans.

The alkaloids found in Acacias include Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), 5 MethoxyDimethyltryptamine (5 MeO-DMT) and N-methyltryptamine (NMT). The plant leaves, stems and/or roots are sometimes made into a brew together with some MAOI-containing plant and consumed orally for healing, ceremonial or religious uses. Egyptian mythology has associated the acacia tree with characteristics of the tree of life (cf. article on the Legend of Osiris and Isis).

===== List of acacia species having little or no alkaloids in the material sampled: =====

0% \le C \le 0.02%, C...Concentration of Alkaloids [%]

Acacia acinacea

Acacia baileyana

Acacia decurrens

Acacia dealbata

Acacia mearnsii

Acacia drummondii

Acacia elata

Acacia falcata

Acacia leprosa

Acacia linearis

Acacia melanoxylon

Acacia pycnantha

Acacia retinodes

Acacia saligna

Acacia stricta

Acacia verticillata

Acacia vestita

Cyanogenic glycosides

Nineteen different species of Acacia in the Americas contain cyanogenic glycosides, which, if exposed to an enzyme which specifically splits glycosides, can release hydrogen cyanide (HCN) in the acacia "leaves." This sometimes results in the poisoning death of livestock.

If fresh plant material spontaneously produces 200 ppm or more HCN, then it is potentially toxic. This corresponds to about 7.5 mmol HCN per gram of fresh plant material. It turns out that, if acacia "leaves" lack the specific glycoside-splitting enzyme, then they may be less toxic than otherwise, even those containing significant quantities of cyanic glycosides.

Some Acacia species containing cyanogens:

Acacia erioloba

Acacia cunninghamii

Acacia obtusifolia

Acacia sieberiana

Acacia sieberiana var. woodii

Species

There are over 1,300 species of Acacia. See List of Acacia species for a more complete listing.

Famous acacia

Perhaps the most famous acacia is the Arbre du Tenere in Niger. The reason for the tree's fame is that it used to be the most isolated tree in the world, approximately 400 km from any other tree. The tree was knocked down by a truck driver in 1973.

Identification gallery

Flowers

Bark

Foliage

Seed pods

Seeds

Thorns

Tree

Wood

See also

List of Acacia species

Plant defense against herbivory

Psychedelic plants

General references

Clement, B.A., Goff, C.M., Forbes, T.D.A. Toxic Amines and Alkaloids from Acacia rigidula, Phytochem. 1998, 49(5), 1377.

Shulgin, Alexander and Ann, TiHKAL the Continuation. Transform Press, 1997. ISBN 0-9630096-9-9

External links

World Wide Wattle

Acacia-world

Wayne's Word on "The Unforgettable Acacias"

The genus Acacia and Entheogenic Tryptamines, with reference to Australian and related species, by mulga

A description of Acacia from Pomet's 1709 reference book, History of Druggs

www.serendipity.com

Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Flora identification tools from the State Herbarium of South Australia

Tannins in Some Interrelated Wattles

List of Acacia Species in the U.S.

FAO Timber Properties of Various Acacia Species

FAO Comparison of Various Acacia Species as Forage

Long-term effects of roller chopping on antiherbivore defenses in three shrub species, Jason R. Schindlera, Timothy E. Fulbright

Vet. Path. ResultsAFIP Wednesday Slide Conference - No. 21 February 24, 1999

Acacia cyanophylla lindl as supplementary feed/for small stock in Libya

Description of Acacia Morphology

Nitrogen Fixaton in Acacias

Acacias with Cyagenic Compounds

Acacia Alarm System

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Acacia