One of the characteristics we were looking for when we chose this farm was an abundance of trees. There is a wide variety here, from the grand oaks under which the female llamas shelter from sun and rain, to the various plums from which we make so much jam. The willows offer cool dripping shade in the summer heat, and the hazels provide sheltered pathways and unlimited supplies of sticks for garden use.
My favourite of all the trees is, however, one that I didn’t know at all before we came here: the acacia.
These are quick growing, slender branched trees that make a delicate tracery of branches lightly covered with long leaf shoots with multiple small leaves. Each shoot has a pair of viciously sharp thorns at the base.
At this time of year they burst suddenly into wonderful flower.
Masses of pendulous blossom give off a intense fragrance.
Walking up the lane from the house, you pass under overhanging acacia branches, and through a cloud of scent.
Sadly, the blossom is short-lived. Within about a fortnight it is gone, to be followed by the pea-like seeds.
The acacia is not just beautiful – it’s also an extremely useful tree. It’s a major honey plant: despite the short life of the flowers, French acacia honey is renowned. The wood is also very highly valued in this area. All of the hundreds of fence posts around the farm are cut from acacia – it’s an immensely hard and durable wood. One of our neighbours told me that the quality was better in the past, when the wood was only cut in the winter when the moon was waning, but even with modern production methods, a post is likely to last more than 25 years without any form of chemical treatment.
The acacia, as it is called here in France, is technically a ‘false’ acacia. It was introduced to Europe from its native North America (where it’s known as the Black Locust Tree) in the 17th century and given the Latin family name Robinia after the French royal gardener Jean Robin.
Hi Simon. Are Acacia okay for llamas? We were looking at trees we could plant on the land and were wondering about acacia as it grows so fast. Conifers are also fast growers but own here they attract something called a processional caterpillars which are dangerous for humans and animals. Our friends dog lost half it’s tongue munching on a few!
Acacia is fine for llamas. Ours have always enjoyed nibbling the bark off their fenceposts, and I suspect that they would be quite destructive if allowed to graze among acacias (though to be honest, they will make quite a mess of any trees growing in their fields – this old blog post shows some of ours destroying the young pines in their field Deforestation llama style).
Not sure about the seedpods of acacia. They’ve never been a problem with our llamas, but you can read a lot of stuff about making sure that llamas don’t eat a range of pea-like plants. One common often-quoted example is broom – and we worried a lot about this in the Aude, where we had loads of broom. It turned out that the llamas wouldn’t eat it at all. The same is true here. We’ve come to the conclusion that llamas are very good at avoiding plants that might be bad for them. Most of the stuff on the web about poisonous plants seems to be based on experience with horses, which are perhaps much more susceptible (or stupid!).
Processional caterpillars can be a pain – literally as well as figuratively. I took some pictures of some in the Aude . We managed to deal with them in our pine trees by keeping a watch out for the nests, and then pruning the affected branches and removing the nests.