12 Jun 2015

Gifts from the Golden Wattle - chewing gum, pom-pom flowers, and glue

by Joan Marie Galat

The golden wattle (Acacia pycantha) is the most widespread of all Australian plants and one of more than 900 species of wattle in the country. An evergreen, it may grow as a bushy shrub up to 16 feet (5 meters) high and sport a multitude of slightly droopy branches, or grow as a tree with a single trunk up to 32 feet (10 meters) high. 

As a seedling, golden wattles grow tough, water-saving leaves that help it survive Australia’s dry regions. But adult trees do not have true leaves. Instead, they grow shiny flattened leaf stalks without blades. These blades, called phyllodes, do the work of leaves.

When the tree is three years old, flowers erupt, looking like clusters of fluffy gold pompoms. Each flower head contains up to eighty tiny sweet-smelling blossoms. 
After pollination, flowers form pods that look like long, green string beans. 

Under the hot Australian sun, pods turn dark brown as they mature and split open on one side to release their seeds. These remarkable seeds can still sprout after spending decades in the soil, and trees often appear soon after a bushfire because heat enables the seeds to germinate.

Golden Wattle Chewing Gum
Long before you could buy chewing gum at a store and well before British settlers arrived in Australia, Aborigine people ate gum. Where did they get it? From the sap that oozed out of golden wattle trees. They made notches in the bark to collect gum more easily and ensure a regular supply. They also found the gooey sap could be used as an adhesive and mixed it with other ingredients to make objects stick together. 

Sugar gliders like the gum too. They make golden wattle sap flow by chewing holes into tree trunks and branches. The tree produces gum to heal the injury and the sugar glider gets a tasty snack. Sugar gliders also eat golden wattle seeds before they ripen.

In Australia, September 1 marks the first day of spring and National Wattle Day—a special time to honor the spirit and resilience of Australian people. With bright yellow flowers and deep green leaves, the famous golden wattle’s image adorns Australia’s coat of arms, postage stamps, and awards of merit.

You can discover how people, animals, and the planet needs 11 different species of trees from across the globe in Branching Out - How trees are part of Our World published by Owlkids. Watch this 62 second book trailer for details.

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