By Any Name, Will Smell As Sweet
News Flash! Africa’s Acacia tree is gone.
Historic African Acacia tree, star of the African vista for hundreds of years and the symbol for many of Africa’s banks and businesses, is no more!
But what can this mean? Another mass extinction theory? Eaten by worms? An epidemic of arboreal black death? What diabolical event caused an entire continent full of botanical phenomena, vital for the well-being of man and beast, to disappear in a trice?
And, what if I were to tell you it was theft?
Impossible. All the trees in a park perhaps. But all the specimens of the African Acacia tree, a very visible and prolific species in Africa?
The sting in the tale here is that none of us (well very few), even knew about the theft being perpetrated right under our noses – so to speak.
Allow me to briefly outline the perfidious means by which the deed was done.
It was at the 18th International Botanical Congress in July 2011 held in Melbourne, Australia. In dispute, the name of the genus Acacia (for plants). Very simply, Australia wanted the rights to the name, all to themselves, for their Australian plants. The decision went to Australia on the basis that they had the most species – about 960 out of 1350 known species. All the rest – African, Asian, and American – were split into two genera.
And so we lost our own classic Acacia tree…
Although the new identifying information has been published in the brand new editions of “tree books” and “field guides,” most of us who collect these expensive reference materials over years are still using pre 2011 copies. And so they should. Even more of us, still use the botanical names we grew up with. It could be decades before the full horror of this treacherous theft comes to everyone’s attention.
Why treacherous? Well the oldest name of an African Acacia was Acacia scorpioides given in 1753 to the Gum Arabic tree, more than twenty years BEFORE Australia came on the radar! Do you think “they” even knew that. Acacia is the Greek word for thorn, Acanth. And the Australian national tree – golden wattle – has no thorns! Nor do most of the other Aus Acacia, why claim an entire species as your own on false pretenses. I rest my case. Well, what tree is next? Hang on to your tree names folks, you may be next. If you like acacia, you will love this site. Heard of jelly beans, Ben a & Jerry’s ice cream? Go to the bottom of that page for the uses of Gum Arabic.