Late February and March appear to be Acacia bloom time this year, with several shrubby and tree species - some escaped, some planted - blooming brightly yellow in the landscape around the greater Bay Area. Introduced from New South Wales, Australia, Acacia pravissima is one of the latter; a non-invasive, large shrub or tree that offers an abundant flower display this month.
A recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, Oven's wattle in a bushy shrub to small tree that can grow to 15 feet tall. It is hardy to 20 degrees F and maintains its "leaves" – properly called phyllodes, year-round. Phyllodes are leaf-like organs that consist entirely of petiole tissue, a part of the leaf commonly called the "leaf stem." They do not consist of a leaf blade, the flattened part of true leaves that we recognize as such. Acacia phyllodes are a valuable adaptation for the dry environment in which they've evolved. With a reduced surface area and thicker texture, they are responsible for water storage and have a greater capacity to overcome dry periods without suffering structural damage, in addition to serving other important purposes of true leaves, including photosynthesizing for sugar production and transpiring for water and nutrient uptake.
In part due to the presence of phyllodes, Acacia pravissima is well-adapted to a mediterranean environment, including drought. They thrive in partial to full sun, are fast growing, and can be grown as a specimen plant, pruned as a hedge, exposed to coastal conditions, and grown for floral arranging, whether for the flowers or for the structural branching and wedge-like phyllodes, green or dried.
The Latin specific epithet pravissima translates to "very bent" or "crooked," in reference to its very angular, and ultimately weeping, branching habit. Eye-catching, abundant yellow flowers are borne close along these weeping branches for several feet and attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Profile by Corey Barnes and Mona Bourell. Photos by Joanne Taylor.