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Plants of the Bible: Red Acacia (Vachellia seyal aka Acacia seyal)

Also known as shittah tree, this evergreen tree is native to parts of northern Africa including Senegal, and Egypt where it grows in woodlands, wooded grassland, subtropical and tropical deserts, dry forest areas, lowlands, along watercourse, and near waterholes or seasonally flooded black cotton soils.   It belongs to the legume family, Fabaceae, that also includes peanuts, sweet pea, and black locust.  The tree grows up to 55′ tall  although under 30′ in cultivation,  and has a deep tap root, rust-colored powdery bark, and horizontal branches with large straight spines except on the tips where the spines are curved.  The dark green, bipinnate leaves are 3-4″ long and have 10-12 pairs of leaflets about .5″ long.  Rounded clusters of bright yellow flowers appear on 1″ long stems in the leaf axils during the dry season and give rise to light brown dry pods 4-6″ long containg several seeds.  Photo Credit Marco Schmidt Wikipedia

The Hebrew word shittah (pl. shittim) is generally thought to be a species of Acacia.  There are four species of  Acacia in the Bible lands and  A. seyal and A. tortilis  are considered the most probable species intended in the Bible because of their size and suitability for use as timber. A. seyal is very common in some parts of the Sinai  peninsula  and the specific epithet, seyal, which was the Arabic word for torrent, may refer to the fact that the tree was common in the wadis and ravines that were filled with fast-moving streams during the rainy season.  The wood of red acacia was used by ancient Egyptians to make coffins and would have been suitable for use in building the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle.

Exodus 25:Moses receives instructions from the Lord when on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights:

25.5  (Acceptable offerings include: ) “tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather; acacia wood; “

25. 10 “They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. ”

25. 13 “You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. “

2523 “You shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high.”

25.28 “You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these .”

2615  “You shall make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. “

26. 26 “ You shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, “

26. 32 You shall hang it [curtain] on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, which have hooks of gold and rest on four bases of silver. 

26.37  “You shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them.”

27.1 You shall make the altar [of Burnt Offereings] of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and it shall be three cubits high. 

27.6  “You shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze;”

30.1  “You shall make an altar on which to offer incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. “

305  “You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. “

35.   Moses asks for an offerings of…...

35. 7 “ tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, “

35.24 “ Everyone who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s offering; and everyone who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work, brought it.”

3620 “Then he made the upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. “

36.31  “He made bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, “

36.36 For it [the curtain] he made four pillars of acacia, and overlaid them with gold; their hooks were of gold, and he cast for them four bases of silver. 

37.1  “Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood; it was two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.”

374 “He made poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold,

37. 10 “He also made the table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high.

37.15  “He made the poles of acacia wood to carry the table, and overlaid them with gold. “

37.25  “He made the altar of incense of acacia wood, one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it was square, and was two cubits high; its horns were of one piece with it. “

37.28  “And he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold. “

38. 1  “He made the altar of burnt offering also of acacia wood; it was five cubits long, and five cubits wide; it was square, and three cubits high. “

38.6  “he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with bronze. “

Deuteronomy: Moses addresses the the Israelites for the last time as they prepare for their entrance into Canaan.

10.3  “So I made an ark of acacia wood, cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand.”

Isaiah 41: God addresses the people

4119  “I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;”

Joel 3.18 Joel describes the return of good times after the locust plague and drought.

  “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias.

Red acacia likes full sun, and heavy clay-alluvium, medium moist to dry soil, in USDA Hardiness Zones 10-12. It  is drought tolerant but susceptible to damage by over 40 insects including wood borers; infection by Fomes rimosus, Ganoderma lucidum, Leveillula taurica, Ravenelia volkensii, Trametes meyenii, and Uromyces schweinfurthii.  Propagation is by seed and root suckering.  The tree is highly valued as an ornamental, and for fodder, wood and gum arabic.

The genus name, Vachell, honors George Harvey Vachell  (1789-1839) chaplain to the British East India Company in Macoa, plant collector in China.     The genus name, Acacia,  is from the Greek word akis, meaning a point or a barb and refers to the thorns.  the specific epithet, seyal,comes from an Arabic word for “torrent” used for the species in Egypt and refers to its  association with water courses there.