For more than two and a half centuries Africa has been home to acacia trees, but now nine people have decided for the entire world that only Australia can lay claim to the botanical name Acacia, and everyone else must now call their acacia trees something else.
The Australians, who have about 1,000 species of acacia trees that are indigenous to their continent, approached the botanical naming committee with a crafty appeal that won them the right to the genus name Acacia. That this appeal was not well known anywhere other than Australia is evidenced by the fact that this happened last July without causing so much as a ripple in the rest of the world's media.
Eugene Moll, chairman of the council of the Botanical Society of South Africa, reports in Veld & Flora that the appeal was made "without much, if any official, consultation with all African, South American and Asian citizens." Africa will now have to call its acacias by the name Senegalia. The decision that Australia could annex the title Acacia goes against the normal rules of taxonomy, the science that gives names to all living organisms, both alive and extinct.
In taxonomy, "the accepted rule is that the earliest published name has precedence", but the Australians have waived this rule claiming special circumstances, despite the fact that the first named acacia was an African tree. The tree was described in 1753, and was Acacia scorpoides, now known as Acacia nilotica (scented thorn, lekkerruikpeul).
Thirty-seven taxonomists are currently appealing the decision, but the outcome is not yet known. Moll comments, "We surely cannot allow the Australians to steal the name that is as much a part of Africa as cheetah and the Big Five?"