The magic of wattles

DERYN THORPEThe West Australian

I took a drive from Perth to Perenjori last week, winding through Bindoon's orange orchards and the intense green of the emerging wheat crops.

While our agriculture showed the diversity of food growing in WA it was the beauty of the midwinter wildflowers, especially the brilliant wattles, that captured my attention.

My drive was to check out a landcare project revegetating roadsides near Perenjori where a team was planting out seedlings of local area native plants including hakeas, melaleucas, small eucalyptus mallees and wattles.

These seedlings, like the wildflowers by the roadside, survive only on the rain that falls from the sky and were chosen to create a relaxed yet colourful landscape that will enhance the drive through the central mid-west Wheatbelt.

Wattles are one of the first plants to flower in winter and part of a big family containing about 900 species, ranging from big trees to small shrubs.

They are a legume with roots that add nitrogen to the soil and are an early coloniser of disturbed sites and post-fire regeneration. Most wattles have phyllodes rather than true leaves, which is an adaptation to their dry environment.

They are beloved garden plants and most have fluffy yellow pompom flowers. Many have edible seed.

One of the most useful small shrubs flowering now from Ravensthorpe to Geraldton is prickly moses (Acacia pulchella), which grows 0.5-2m high and provides a protected habitat for birds as it has small spines along its stems.

The revegetation team's wattles included the summer scented wattle (Acacia rostelifera), a shrub from 2-5m; dead finish (Acacia tetragonaphylla), a spreading, prickly shrub growing 2-4m tall; Acacia multispicata, a dense to wispy shrub from 0.2-2m tall; and orange wattle (Acacia saligna), a dense, often weeping shrub from 1.5-6m tall.

I'm looking forward to driving back that way late next winter, when I expect the roadside to be a sea of yellow and green.

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