WHAT A STRANGE NAME
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.
AN UNLOVED NATIVE PLANT
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 tumbleweed. 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.
Its 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!
It’s also a plant that annoys those who are determined to clear their farmland 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.
MULTIPLE BENEFITS OF THIS WATTLE
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.
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’.