acacia

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acacia (əkā´shə), any plant of the large leguminous genus Acacia, often thorny shrubs and trees of the family Leguminosae (pulse family). Chiefly of the tropics and subtropics, they are cultivated for decorative and economic purposes. Acacias are characteristic of savanna vegetation and are especially numerous in the South African bushveld. The foliage often appears feathery because of the many small leaflets, but in some species leaflike flattened stems contain chlorophyll and take the place of leaves. Various Old World species (especially A. arabica and A. senegal ) yield gum arabic; other species, chiefly A. catechu, yield the dye catechu. Blackwood (A. melanoxylon) is valued in Australia for its hardwood timber. Other members of the genus are valuable for lac, for perfume and essential oils, and for tannins; some are used as ornamentals. The Australian acacias are commonly called wattles—their pliable branches were woven into the structure of the early wattle houses and fences—and Wattle Day celebrates the national flower at blossoming time. Many wattles are cultivated elsewhere, particularly in California, as ornamentals for their characteristic spherical, dense flowers. The Central American bullhorn acacias (e.g., A. sphaerocephala) have large hollow thorns inhabited by ants that are said to feed upon a sweet secretion of the plant and in turn guard it against leaf-eating insects. The most common acacia indigenous to the United States is the cat's-claw (A. gregii) of the arid Southwest. The biblical shittim wood is thought to have come from an acacia. Various species of locust are sometimes called acacia, and acacias may be called mimosa; all are of the same family. Acacia is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.

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ACACIA

ACACIA (Heb. שִׁטָּה, shittah), a tree of Israel considered to be identical to the shittah tree. In the past it was extensively used for construction. Today it is planted to beautify the arid regions of Israel. Acacia-wood is mentioned repeatedly (Ex. 25–27) as the sole wood used in the construction of the Tabernacle. The word also appears as several biblical place names: Shittim near Gilgal (Num. 25:1; etc.); "And all the brooks of Judah … shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 4:18); and Beth-Shittah near Beisan (Judg. 7:22). According to Isaiah, acacia trees would line the path of the returning exiles, and would make the wasteland bloom at the time of redemption (Isa. 4:19). There is almost universal agreement that the shittah is to be identified with the acacia. Several species of the tree grow in Israel, mostly in the wadis of the Judean desert and in the southern Negev. It is thorny and has leaves compounded of small leaflets. The yellow flowers are small and grow in globular clusters. It is not tall; its trunk is thin and generally bent sideways. It is therefore somewhat difficult to identify this tree with the shittah from which the Tabernacle boards "a cubit and a half the breadth of each" (Ex. 26:16) were cut. Noting this difficulty, the Midrash already asked the question: Where in the desert were our forefathers able to find acacia-wood? One solution suggests that the trees were brought from Migdal Ẓevo'aya in the Jordan Valley near the mouth of the Yarmuk and that a small forest existed there (Gen. R. 94:4). Regarded as holy, its trees were not cut down by the local inhabitants. At present, a small grove of Acacia albida, tall trees with thick trunks, which, in contrast to the other species in Israel, grows only in non-desert regions, stands there. This species must have been the "acacia-wood standing up," i.e., with an erect trunk, which provided the wood for the Tabernacle and its accessories. This tropical tree, too, would transform the desert, according to Isaiah, in contrast to the other varieties of acacia which had always grown in the dry regions. This wood is very hard, but light. It does not absorb moisture and so its volume remains constant. It is, therefore, most suitable for construction and was used in shipbuilding.

bibliography:

J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682); Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 377 ff; Dalman, Arbeit, 7 (1942), 32 ff.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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Acacia (family Leguminosae, subfamily Mimosoideae) A genus of plants, most of which are trees (wattles), although a few are climbers. Typically the leaves are bipinnate, with numerous tiny leaflets, or phyllodic (see PHYLLODY). Acacias are important for timber, fuel wood, tannin, gum arabic (especially A. senegal), perfumes (A. farnesiana), and ‘florists’ ‘mimosa’ (usually A. dealbata). There are about 1200 species, most of them in the seasonal tropics and subtropics.

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a·ca·cia / əˈkāshə/ (also acacia tree) • n. a tree or shrub (genus Acacia) of the pea family that bears spikes or clusters of yellow or white flowers and is frequently thorny. ∎  see false acacia.

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acacia (mimosa, wattle) Evergreen shrubs and trees widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions. They have compound leaves and yellow or white flowers. Height: 1.2–18m (4–59ft). Family Leguminosae; genus Acacia.

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acacia XIV. — L. — Gr. akakíā.