Displaying the acacia family tree

We created an interactive display of Australia’s floral emblem – the wattle – to show how each species of acacia is related.

The Challenge

Diverse flora, leaves and plants

Ongoing research into the taxonomy of acacias aims to understand the diverse evolutionary biology behind one of the world's most abundant tree species. 

Acacias have diverse floral, leaf and plant forms.

Acacias are found throughout Australia with over 1,000 known species.

Yet, acacias have an enormous diversity of floral, leaf and plant forms, and this diversity has been difficult to classify.

Our Response

Uncovering the origins of acacias

Researchers at the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR) – a joint venture between the Australian Government and CSIRO – are using latest in DNA research and modern taxonomic tools to uncover the origins of Acacias. 

The DNA work includes studying plant specimens at the Australian National Herbarium and helps clarify which leaf characteristics are important to the taxonomy.   

The work traces biogeographic trends within the genus, as some closely related species may grow in one part of the country while their close relatives are in another part of the continent. 

This poses challenging questions as to how the different acacia species have evolved to occupy specific niches across the continents.

Acacias are found throughout Australia with over 1,000 known species.

The Results

An interactive family tree

As part of the Australian National Botanic Garden's 40th anniversary celebrations in 2010, we created an amazing and unique display of acacias in the form of a 'phylogenetic' tree. 

Based on our research, individual species were grouped at the end of 'branched' pine-bark pathways to denote how closely related they are to one another.

The branching out of the 'tree' indicates splits in evolution of acacias.

A distinct split occurred early in the evolution of the species which now divides them into phyllodinous (phyllodes are broad flat 'leaves') species versus binpinnate ('feathery-leaved') types.

The Acacia Tree of Trees Display lives on as an interactive page on the Atlas Of Living Australia , allowing users to 'virtually' walk through the branched pathways of the tree.

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