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Dead finish or Prickly wattle

Acacia tetragonophylla F.Muell.....[kurara, curara]

Horst Weber


from Greek "akakia", sharp point


tetra (Greek) = four
gonia (Greek)= an angle
phullo, phullon (Greek) = leaf, leaflet

So this plant is the
sharp-point-plant with four-angled leaflets

One of the extremely hardy plants in the Australian Outback

Various explanations are given as to why the plant is called "Dead-finish". It is an extremely hardy plant and some people reckon that its name simply means that this plant can survive longest, and when droughts are so severe that even Acacia tetragonophylla dies, then everything else is "well and truly finished". The most obscure story about dying and dead finish - although possibly unconnected to its name - is the following one:

Acacia tetragonophylla at Arkaroola, northern Flinders Ranges, on a slope south of Mawson Valley.
Select the thumbnail image or plant name for a higher resolution image (64k). Photo: H.Weber

"... plague proportions of rabbits used to occur during good years and these animals ate everything in sight in a last ditch-stand against starvation when drought followed rains. The rabbits stood on their hind legs and nipped off any shoot ... they even climbed the spreading branches of the Acacia tetragonophylla ... to a height of 5 metres in search for food and often died caught in their branches ..." (Specht, R.L., 1972, "The Vegetation of South Australia", p 189)

The plant is called dead finish throughout most of Australia but confusion arises in the north-east of the continent. In Queensland, the same name also applies to the plant Albizia basaltica. As with Mulga (Acacia aneura) the scientific name of dead-finish is based on a prominent characteristic of the leaflets.

Flowering Dead finish.
Select the thumbnail image or plant name for a higher resolution image (24k). Photo: H.Weber

Dead-finish bushes can be found in varying sizes from about 30 cm high to about 2 m, sometimes even up to 5 m. Some are quite scraggly but despite their shape and their prickly phyllodes I like these bushes very much, their charm stemming mainly from the individual, prominent little flower heads sticking out from the branches. However, tastes are different and the bush is rarely used as an ornamental plant. Nevertheless, it is useful for its soil-binding qualities, particularly in sandy areas.

Flowers and phyllodes.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted phrase for a higher resolution image (24k). Photo: H.Weber

The very tip of the "four-angled leaflet" is very much like a small thorn or needle. This thorny part possesses medical properties. In Aboriginal medicine they were used as a wart remover: In a very painful procedure, up to six of those thorns were inserted into the wart and left there until bleeding started. Alternatively the thorny part was left in the wart, after the main part of the leaflet had been broken off. After 4-5 days the wart had withered and could be removed. As well as wart treatment, the plant came in useful for the treatment of sores, boils and cuts: Small pieces of root bark were boiled in half a billycanful of water, the liquid strained and used as a wash or applied directly to the affected area. Furthermore, wrapping root bark around broken limbs can be a very useful aid in the healing process.

Branch with seed pods.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted phrase for a higher resolution image (36k). Photo: H.Weber



Shrub or tree, usually up to 2 m, sometimes up to 5 m high, multi-stemmed and with many branches, straggly, prickly; surface of branches hairless, except for very young branches which may be slightly downy; shape of branches cylindrical, bark dark-grey and slightly cracked or rough at the base, but smooth further up

(Most acacias have no leaves in the proper botanical sense. The leaf-like green "things" are called phyllodes.)

Growing Pattern

Usually clustered (2-5), sometimes single




10-50 mm long, approximately 1 mm wide


Needle-like, angular, tapering, 1-2 prominent veins (each side), sharply pointed


Rigid, usually without hair, except very young phyllodes




Growing pattern

On stalks (approximately as long as phyllodes), single or in clusters of 2-5


Deep yellow


6-9 mm in diameter


Globular heads; each head consists of approximately 50 tiny individual flowers



Dark brown


7-8 cm long, 5-6 mm broad


Convex, curved, twisted, constricted between seeds; sharp or pointed tip


Slightly woody


  1. Aboriginal Community of the N.T., 1988, Traditional Bush Medicines
  2. Cunningham, G.M. et al, 1981, Plants of Western New South Wales
  3. Hall, N, et al, 1972, The use of trees and shrubs in the dry country of Australia
  4. Edmunds, L., et al, 1987, Flora List - Arkaroola Mt. Painter Sanctuary, Northern Flinders Ranges
  5. Jessop, J.P., 1986, Flora of South Australia
  6. Smith, N.N., 1991, "Ethnobotanical field notes from the Northern Territory" in: J.Adelaide Bot.Gard.14(1)
  7. Specht, R.L., 1972, The Vegetation of South Australia
  8. Tame, T, 1992, Acacias of Southeast Australia
  9. Whibley, 1980, D.J.E, Acacias of South Australia

Horst Weber is a teacher and IT-manager at the German Cultural Institute, or "Goethe-Institut", Dublin. In 1987, on his first visit to Australia, he fell in love with the private nature sanctuary, Arkaroola-Mt-Painter in South-Australia where he became interested in botany.

Horst is a member of "The Friends of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden, Port Augusta". During 1999 he will develop a Website for the Botanic Garden.

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Australian Plants online - June 1999
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants