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No. 222: Acacia cyperophylla


The Red Mulga.


Botanical description.

— Genus, Acacia. (See Part XV, p. 103.)

Botanical description.

— Species, A. cyperophylla, F. Muell. Herb. (in B.Fl. ii, 400, 1864).

Tall, with curly bark and dark wood, branchlets terete.

Phyllodia linear-subulate with a fine, usually curved point, 6 to 10 inches long, terete or very slightly compressed, striate with numerous exceedingly fine parallel nerves only visible under a lens, hoary with a very minute loose pubescence.

Spikes sessile or nearly, so, oblong, not 1/2inch long.

Flowers mostly 5-merous or 6-merous.

Calyx turbinate, about half as long as the corolla, at first shortly toothed but often dividing nearly to the base.

Petals smooth, glabrous.

Pod unknown.

In the course of time some confusion has arisen in regard to this species, Mueller himself sometimes forgetting what he had originally described under that name, oftenest substituting A. Burkittii F.v.M. for it.

I accordingly requested Professor Ewart to kindly favour me with all the material in the Melbourne Herbarium attributed to A. cyperophylla, which he promptly did. None of the material received was authentic, except the Leichhardt and Gregory

The Gregory specimen, which is evidently the type, bears the following very old label, in Mueller's handwriting:—

Acacia cyperophylla, F.Y.M. inedit

A aneura affinis (sepalis diversa). . . Stony ground, Cooper's Creek.

Tall stem with curly bark and dark wood."

It is in flower only, and is the comparatively coarse twig in the middle of the plate of Acacia cyperopliylltt, as depicted by Mueller in his " Iconography of Australian Acacias."

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The twig to the left is probably A. Burkittii F.v.M. The twig to the right is A. Currani Maiden (Proc. Roy. Soc. N.S.W., xlix, 492, 1915). So that the plate portrays no less than three species of Acacia!

Most of the enlarged drawings of Mueller's plate are those of A. Burkittii. The type may be re-described as follows:—

Phyllode, terete or somewhat flattened, finely striate with a hoary tomentum, seen under a lens; the base somewhat constricted and wrinkled for a few mm. with almost annular very shallow protuberances, the whole more or less hoary.

Flowers in nearly sessile spikes, glabrous, 5-merous.

Calyx turbinate-truncate, slightly lobed at the apex, with a ragged, irregular edge, hoary on surface. About half as long as the corolla.

Petals glabrous (too young to show recurving), united not quite half-way up.

Pistil smooth and shiny or hoary (very small).

Pod absent.

The following specimens, probably A. cyperophylla, were seen by both Mueller and Bentham. They are only inferior in importance to the type.

A specimen from Flinders River (No. 141) is smaller in all its parts, but appears to be structurally similar to the type. If the pods turn out different, the matter can be reconsidered.

There is a second specimen labelled "No.10," Flinders River, which is apparently the same as the above, but I do not know the name of the collector, although the handwriting was at one time familiar to me. I suggest it maybe Henne.

The specimen of Leichhardt's simply bears the words "Acacia" and "Leichhardt" in Bentham's handwriting in pencil.

W.V. Fitzgerald writes as follows of this species:—

A. cyperophylla F.v.M. Calyx usually lobed to the middle; lobes ciliate. Petals connate to or above the middle. Pod long, linear, slightly constricted between the seeds, 4–6 inches long; valves convex, pubescent. Seeds oblique oblong; funicle rather long and much folded from the base, hardly thickened into a linear basilar arillus. (Journ. W.A. Nat. Hist. Soc., Vol. 2, Part i, p. 51 [1904]).

I doubt whether Mr. Fitzgerald saw the pods of A. cyperophylla. The linear pod 4–6 inches long, and convex, pubescent valves, constricted between the seeds, points to something different to what I recognise as A. cyperophylla. The most careful search here and in Perth has failed to find the specimens described.

The following is a description (see also Fig.G. Plate 227) of a pod in situ, on a branchlet whose phyllodes are typical. It was collected by Captain S.A. White as stated below.

Stipitate, pod flat, valves pointed at each extremity, 5 cm. long, 5 mm. broad, brownish, slightly scaly, thickened margins.

Seeds thin, compressed, pale brown (evidently not perfectly ripe), of irregular quadragular outline, funicle uniformly thread-like, once folded, arillus or cap very small.

This, in my view, is the first time the pods of A. cyperophylla have been described.

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— It may be distinguished from A. Burkittii and A. brachystachya in the following way:—

Flower 5-merous, glabrous  Flower 4-merous  Flower 5-merous. 
Calyx semi-truncate ...  Calyx irregularly divided, hairy  Calyx narrow, thin, no central nerve, or very slight, a few hairs at the tips. 
Pistil hoary  Pistil hairy   Pistil hoary. 
Pod figured infra, and described supra.  Pods figured and described in Part 59.  ... 

Botanical Name.

— Acacia, already explained (see Part XV, p. 104); cyperophylla, from two Greek words, kupeiros, a marsh plant or sedge, and phullon, a leaf, the foliage reminding one of a sedgy or rushy plant.

Vernacular Name.

— "Red Mulga." The term "Mulga" is applied to several species of Acacia forming tallish shrubs or small trees, and somewhat erect in habit, though not invariably so.

Aboriginal Name.

— know of none.


— Of the rush-like or needle bushes, the leaves (phyllodes), of this species are relatively coarse.


— Note that the pod has been now described for the first time.


— Most writers draw attention to the bark, which appears to be characteristic.

Reference is invited to what has been quoted from Ernest Giles and Baldwin Spencer, below. Its characteristic appears to be its curliness; it is red in colour.


— It is so small and so distant from large towns that it can only be used locally. It is remarkably tough, and hence, although I have no direct evidence, it is probably used by the aborigines in the manufacture of weapons.


— A tall shrub or small tree.


— It is a denizen of dry country. Mueller, in his "Second Census of Australian Plants," 1889, states that this species is found in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

As regards South Australia, the type comes from there, and I have referred to some specimens with thinner phyllodes, from Queensland, which, in the present state of our knowledge, are referable to A. cyperophylla. I will also show (I believe satisfactorily) that it is found in Western Australia, but I cannot find any evidence that it occurs in New South Wales. I have, however, deliberately inserted it in the present work because every writer who refers to A. cyperophylla follows Mueller in recording

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it from New South Wales, and I think that it is probable that it may be, later on, found in the north-western extremity of this State. I trust that the drawing I submit may lead to its, re-discovery, for it is to some extent a "lost" species as, until the present publication, it had not been re-discovered since it was originally described in 1864 from "Stony Ground, Cooper's Creek, A.C. Gregory." The native name of Cooper's Creek is Barcoo, and its course is not perfectly defined, as, in many parts of its length, it frequently does not run. It rises in the Warrego district of Queensland, flows through sandy desert country into South Australia, debouching into Lake Eyre.

It is noteworthy that most writers who have collected this Acacia speak of its local rarity. It is evidently never found gregariously. I give a number of references to South Australian localities; it is found in the vicinity of the Macdonell Range's.

1. I have not seen the specimens referred to in Ernest Giles' "Geographic Travels in Central Australia, from 1872 to 1874," 8vo. pp. iii, 223, Melbourne, 1875.

Giles gives a slightly fuller account of this Acacia in his "Australia twice Traversed," i, 62. He speaks of his arrival on the 24th September, 1872, at an elevation he calls Mount Udor, in the western part of the Macdonell Ranges. He says: "We had to encamp in the midst of a thicket of a kind of willow acacia, with pink bark all in little curls, with a small and pretty (mimosa-like, these two words are not in the, 1875 v ersion.-J.H.M.) leaf. The bush is of the most tenacious nature, you may bend it, but break it won't."

I think Tate's determination of this as A. cyperophylla is correct in spite of the fact that it is not a "Willow Acacia....with pretty mimosa-like leaf." But the curly bark seems a character.

2. It is stated to have been collected by Tietkens at the Warman Rocks (S.E. of Lake Macdonald), see his Journal of Cent. Aust. Exped. 1889, P. 74 (1891); see also Trans. Roy. Soc. S.A., xiii, 101 (1890).

3. In the Journ. Horn Scientific Exp. 1894, by C. Winnecke, p. 7, under date 9th May; we have "Camped at Red Mulga Creek,....the name of, the creek is derived from a peculiar and rare species of Mulga, supposed to be Acacia cyperophylla, which we first beheld here, and which is possibly confined to this region."

4. "The lines of the watercourses are marked with Acacia cyperophylla, the red Mulga, a very local tree extending across a narrow belt of country from east to west, a little way to the north of the old Macumba Station." (Horn Expedition, Narrative; by Baldwin Spencer, p. 13.)

5. A little to the north of Dalhousie we crossed a narrow. belt of country characterised by the growth along the creek sides of Red Mulga. This is an Acacia (A. cyperophylla) reaching perhaps a height of twenty feet, the bark of which, alone amongst Acacias, is deciduous and peels off, forming little deep-red coloured flakes. It. is evidently very local in its distribution, and we met it nowhere else except in this district," (Ib., p. 16.)

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6. See also a reference in Spencer and Gillen's "Across Australia" (i, 72, 1912).

7. In the Larapintine Region (Tate, Horn Expedition, p. 156) we have recorded under A. cyperophylla:—

"Warman Rocks (Tietkens), Mount Udor (E. Giles), . from description, 'Geogr. Travels,' p. 32; also by margins of creeks flowing on scarped face of Stanley Tableland to the Stevenson River, and on the east slope on Red Mulga Creek."

8. The A. cyperophylla F.v.M. of the "Report on the Botany of the Elder Exploring Expedition," by Mueller and Tate, Proc. Roy. Soc. S.A., xvi, 352 (1896), is, as at least as regards the Warrina, S.A., specimen, A. brachystachya, Benth. I have not seen the Arkaringa Valley specimen.

9. "Red Mulga," between Dalhousie and Blood's Creek (in say 26° 30' S. Lat. and say 135° 20' E. Long.), S.A., August, 1913 (Capt. S.A. White, through J.M. Black). Only found in very limited areas. on one or two creeks. It is recorded by Mr. Blackin Trans. Roy. Soc. S.A., xxxviii, 465. The specimen consists of phyllodes, with one pod containing ripe seeds in situ.

As regards Queensland we have a specimen referred to by Bentham which was collected by Leichhardt, and which may or may not have come from that State, although it probably did. The Flinders River specimen, also seen by Bentham, of course came from Queensland.

Bailey (Queensland Flora, 505) merely says "Southern inland localities" and gives nothing definite.

As regards Western Australia, it is in the late Dr. A. Morrison's list of Extratropic Western Australian plants published in the Western Australian Year-book for 1900–01, but without a specific locality. It is not in the collection of the Government Botanist at Perth. Following is a translation of some remarks under A. cyperophylla, by Messrs. Diels and Pritzel in Engler,'s Bot. Jahrb. XXXV, 307, 1905. With reference to the "figures and types of Mueller," the only figure I know, is the centre one of A. cyperophylla in Mueller's 'Iconography of Acacias,' and the only type is that already described. I am inclined to doubt the correctness of the determinations of Messrs. Diels and Pritzel in regard to this particular species, which is not to be surprised at, and the specimens quoted by them are not available, with the exception of a specimen by Mr. W.V. Fitzgerald which I have commented upon, p. 273.

"We have got numerous specimens from the interior regions which agree entirely with the figures and types of Mueller.

Habitat in the Austin district near Cue in open muddy gravelly shrublands; flowered and fruited in the month of June. A shrub 3 m. high, remarkable for its somewhat terete phyllodes (d. 3275); near Mount Malcolm (W.V. Fitzgerald); in the Coolgardie district near Coolgardie (Webster, 1898). A form resinous in the young parts, 2 m. high, had fruit in the month of November in the open muddy forest near Dundas (D. 5814)."

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The following specimen, in the absence of pods, appears to be A. cyperophylla:—

Comet Vale, 62 miles north of Kalgoorlie, W.A. September, 1900 (J.H.M.). A rigid tough shrub of 10–12 feet growing in slight depressions in sandy land.


Plate 227: The Red Mulga. (Acacia cyperophylla, F.v.M.) Lithograph by Margaret Flockton.

  • A. Flowering twig from Cooper's Creek, on stony ground.
  • B. Base of phyllode, showing attachment and gland.
  • C. Portion of phyllode much enlarged to show the fine striation.
  • D. Flower, 5-merous.
  • E. Floral bract.
  • F. Pistil.
  • G. Fruits from Blood's Creek, South Australia.
  • H. Seeds.
  • I. Flowering twig from Flinders River.