Various trees and shrubs known as Acacias, including plants known by such names as Thorn Trees, Whistling Thorns, Wattles, Yellow-fever Acacia and Umbrella Acacia, belong to a genus of trees of the family Fabaceae. About 1300 species of acacias have been identified worldwide, out of which about 960 species are native to Australia.
Acacias grow in most of the tropical and temperate regions of the world. While some of them may be growing in the wild, acacias are also grown in commercial plantations for various purposes, including for use as timber, firewood, pulp for paper industries, cut flowers, medicines, etc.
As some species of acacias grow very fast even in very adverse climatic and environmental conditions, they are used to reclaim arid lands, to stop rapid expansion of deserts, to prevent soil erosion, reforestation, etc.
Since they are also an invasive species that can harm the native plants, growing acacias on a commercial scale are discouraged in some regions/ countries. Extensive cultivation of acacias by commercial plantations has also resulted in groundwater level depletion in some areas.
Acacia seeds and plant parts like shoots are used as food in countries such as Mexico, Burma, Laos and Thailand. Acacias are listed as ingredients in many soft drinks, root beers, energy drinks, candies, juices, chewing gum, food supplements, health foods, etc.
In ancient Egypt, Acacia extracts were used in paints. From the 16th century, Needle Bush trees (Acacia farnesiana) have been used in perfume industry because of the essential oil Cassie (obtained by distilling acacia flowers) which is used as a base for aromatherapy and perfumes.
In Ayurvedic medicines and other natural systems of medicine, the species Acacia nilotica is used for treating premature ejaculation. According to an Ethiopian medical text, a potion made from Acacia (grar) mixed with other herbal roots is used for curing rabies.
Catechu, an astringent rich in tannins is prepared from some species of acacias, mainly from Acacia catechu, by boiling the wood in water, and extracting the water-dissolved contents by evaporating the solution.
Some Acacia species are sources of timber for furniture, for instance, species such as the Blackwood trees. Also, the Lightwood trees (Acacia implexa), an Australian Acacia found near Canberra and elsewhere in Australia, are useful for making furniture and interior decoration woodwork.
Another Australian native species Myall Wood yields fragrant wood used for making ornaments. Acacia koa, a Hawaiian Islands species, and Acacia heterophylla found in the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, are highly sources of timber, firewood, and pulpwood for the paper industry.
Some plant parts (like bark and roots) and resin of Acacia have been used for centuries to prepare incense for rituals in Asian countries such as India, Nepal and China. An alcoholic beverage is brewed from acacia pods in many areas where acacias have been traditionally grown.
Some species of acacia plants yield gum and glues. Many acacia species are used in traditional medicines, herbal medical preparations, etc. because some organic chemical compounds found in some species have medicinal properties.
The species Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) with beautiful silvery leaves and yellow flowers, are grown as ornamental plants in public gardens and home gardens (see the wallpaper and download it for free). This species, native to Australia, is now naturalized in several other regions of the world including Norfolk Island, California, the Mediterranean region and Chile. Though acacia timber can be used for furniture making, its flowers and apex shoots are very popular as cut flowers in florists’ trade, and known as ‘mimosa’.
Some homeowners and landscape architects grow the species of acacia with thorns for security reasons, as they can deter intruders.
The bark of some Australian species such as Wattles is rich in tannin, which is commercially produced and exported, apart from domestic consumption.