Rusty Solutions for a Prickly Problem

The state of Queensland has got an alien thorny invader: Prickly acacia, or in scientific terms Acacia nilotica subspecies nilotica.

Prickly acacia - Kunjithapatham Dhileepan
Prickly acacia invasion, north Queensland, Australia, Photo: Kunjithapatham Dhileepan, DEEDI, Australia

Prickly acacia is a shrub or small tree which belongs to the plant family Leguminosae, subfamily Mimosoideae, a family which also accommodates the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica, well-known as a curiosity house plant. The prickly invader A. nilotica is native to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent and was introduced from India into Australia in the late 1890s. Originally imported as an ornamental, A. nilotica ssp. indica was later widely used as a shade and fodder tree for sheep. But what was initially a valued addition to the Australian flora soon became a menace. When the grazing regime in Australia changed from predominantly sheep to cows and the country also experienced a number of successive wet years, the balance swung in the favour of prickly acacia. The thorny shrub spread quickly and has now invaded around six million hectares of arid and semi-arid land in the State of Queensland. Acacia nilotica ssp. indica is also present in the Northern Territory as well as in Western Australia. Due to its substantial impact on the environment as well as on the economy, particularly on the livestock industry, prickly acacia was initially declared a noxious weed in Queensland in 1957. Subsequently the plant has also been listed as a “Weed of National Significance” for the whole of Australia. And Australians have every reason to be worried, as the prickly invader has got the potential to spread throughout the arid regions of the whole of northern Australia.

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