Farming with Habitat - Embracing the Wild Irishman

Acacia paradoxa or locally ‘Wild Irishman’

Acacia paradoxa or locally ‘Wild Irishman’

Early in our time at Highfield we were asked by our welcoming neighbours what

we were going to do about the Wild Irishman. David and I looked at each other

wondering who they may be referring to – the young man who lives down the

creek a little further perhaps? He has an Irish surname. He is a little eccentric

but ‘wild’? Did they mean him?

As the conversation continued we finally worked out that they were referring to

a particularly spikey wattle that grows here called Acacia paradoxa.

It’s not a particularly attractive plant, at least when it’s not in flower – it’s

scrubby and spikey and dies after a few short years leaving a troublesome

tumble weed. But the paradox of this plant is that it is absolutely stunning in full

flower with tiny fluffy balls of wattle flowers appearing densely along the stems

of the plant on long stalks.

It’s spikey habit has made it an enemy of wool farmers. It’s not the kind of plant

you want in your wool clip as it is particularly difficult to remove and pretty

painful too!

Acacia paradoxa with Grass Trees

Acacia paradoxa with Grass Trees

It’s also a plant that annoys those who are determined to clear their farm land of

native shrubs as it’s one of the first plants to grow back. Each year in spring

driving around the region you can see evidence of it having been sprayed.

When we realized that we were being asked about our attitude to Acacia

paradoxa, we replied that we weren’t going to do anything about it, that we’d let

it grow.

As we see it Acacia paradoxa brings many benefits to both wildlife and the farm.

Because of its extremely spikey nature, Acacia paradoxa provides protection for

many small birds such as thornbills and wrens from predation by larger birds.

Indeed some birds even use the bush to nest in. Each spring the tiny Diamond

Firetails and Western Gerygones build nests in the shrub.

Western Gerygone nest in Acacia paradoxa

Western Gerygone nest in Acacia paradoxa

Later in the season when the fluffy flowers have tuned into seed pods, seed

eating birds forage under the spikey shrubs for protein–rich food.

Even eucalypts benefit from Acacia paradoxa. It’s quite common to see young

eucalypts growing with the protection of the spiky shrub. By the time the wattle

dies, the young eucalypt is tall enough and sturdy enough to survive on its own.

But it’s not only native birds and plants that benefit from Acacia paradoxa, the

unloved plant also brings real benefits to farming.

All wattles have the particular skill of converting atmospheric nitrogen and

fixing it in the soil bringing free fertility to the paddocks.

And the seed pods of wattles including Acacia paradoxa have been proven to

contain natural worming agents saving on using expensive chemical worming

drenches.

With so many benefits for native plants, animals and farming why would we

eradicate Acacia paradoxa from our paddocks? We embrace the ‘Wild Irishman’.

Acacia paradoxa and Scribbly Gum in our conservation area

Acacia paradoxa and Scribbly Gum in our conservation area