Wednesday's Wildflower: Sweet Acacia

Vachellia farnesiana, formerly Acacia farnesiana

Submitted by John Holyland, Mangrove Chapter

Photo by John Holyland, Lemon Bay County Park, Englewood, Florida
Sweet Acacia, (Pronunciation: uh-KAY-shuh far-nee-zee-AY-nuh), is a large shrub or small tree in the legume family. It is native to the Americas, including the Southern United States, Mexico, and the tropics. Sweet Acacia is fast growing and drought tolerant, making it good for landscapes, but it can suffer from root rot if too wet. As it is very thorny, with thorns on its trunks and branches, it should be placed away from walkways. 

The oval yellow flowers, about 1-2 cm. in diameter, bloom in the winter. They are very fragrant and have a long history of being using to make perfume and scented ointments. The fruits are cylindrical green pods that will will turn purple as they age. 

The thorny branches make good cover for birds and other wildlife, and bees love to forage in flowers. 

Legend has it that Jesus’ Crown of Thorns came from a tree of the Acacia family.

Photo by Shirley Denton, FNPS


Editor's note: When I originally sent the notice of this blog to the Wednesday Wildflower contributors, I had Acacia farnesiana as the first mentioned scientific name. Roger Hammer corrected me, so I asked him for the story of the name change. Here is his reply:

There was a taxonomic revision in 2005 that placed members of the genus Acacia into an earlier genus, Vachellia. The genus Vachellia was named to commemorate Eleanor Vachell (1879–1948), a Welsh botanist who is perhaps best known for writing the Flora of Glamorgan, one of the 13 original counties of Wales. She was considered to have an unrivaled knowledge of native plants in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Here’s the lovely lady now (ca. 1930s):

Roger added: Vachellia farnesiana is cultivated in France as a source of essential oils to produce violet perfume. The name farnesiana relates to the Villa Farnese in the town of Caprarola in northern Italy. Most people think violet perfume comes from violets in the genus Viola, but violet flowers contain chemicals that can briefly turn off the ability of the human nose to detect the scent consecutively, which is not a very good trait for a perfume.

Links: FNPS: Native Plants for Your Area 
USF Plant Atlas: Vachellia farnesiana


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