Karoo acacia (Vachellia karroo)

PROHIBITED MATTER: If you see this plant report it. Call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline 1800 680 244
Also known as: Karroo thorn

Karoo acacia is a shrub or tree with distinctive long white thorns and ball-shaped fluffy yellow flowers. It forms dense thickets that compete with other plants and restrict movement of people and animals.


How does this weed affect you?

Karoo acacia grows quickly and forms dense thorny thickets. It:

  • can injure people, livestock, pets and wildlife
  • suppresses grasses and reduces productivity in grazing land 
  • restricts movement of animals and people
  • makes mustering difficult
  • blocks access to waterways
  • suppresses native vegetation
  • reduces food and habitat for native wildlife.

What does it look like?

Karoo acacia is a tree or shrub that grows to a height of 12 m tall. It is usually evergreen, but can lose its leaves in very dry or cold conditions. 

Leaves are:

  • 12 cm long and 5 cm wide
  • fern-like and made up of 2-7 pairs of primary leaf segments which are further divided into 5-27 pairs of leaflets.  

Leaflets are

  • light green
  • oblong with rounded tips
  • 4–9 mm long and up to 3 mm wide
  • hairless.

Thorns are:

  • in pairs at the base of the leaves
  • white
  • straight
  • usually 10 cm long, but can be up to 25 cm long
  • longer, stronger and more crowded at the base of the tree. 

Flower heads are:

  • yellow
  • fluffy and ball-shaped, like a pom-pom
  • 1–1.5 cm in diameter
  • sweetly scented
  • in clusters of 4 to 6 balls. 

Seed pods are:

  • green and shiny when young, turning brown and woody with age
  • up to 16 cm long and 1 cm wide
  • crescent or sickle-shaped 
  • flattened but slightly moulded around the seeds.

Seeds are:

  • shiny brown
  • 3.5–9 mm long and 2–7 mm wide
  • attached to the pod by a thread.

Stems are:

  • covered in rough reddish-brown to black bark, or smooth and greyish-white to greyish-brown when older
  • green when young.


Similar looking plants

Karoo acacia looks similar to mimosa bush (Vachellia farnesiana), prickly acacia (Vachellia nilotica), giraffe thorn (Vachellia erioloba), umbrella thorn (Vachellia tortilis) and other non-indigenous acacias. 

Compared to karoo acacia:

  • Mimosa bush has shorter spines (usually up to 2.5 cm long) and cigar-shaped seed pods (up to 8 cm long and 1.7 cm wide). 
  • Prickly acacia has shorter spines (up to 50 mm long) and the seed pods (up to 25 cm long) are greyish-green and with very obvious constrictions between seeds.
  • Giraffe thorn has shorter spines (up to 60 mm long) which sometimes have swollen bases, and the seed pods are half-moon shaped, a bit like a snow pea pod. 
  • Umbrella thorn has a mixture of white spines and shorter, brown, curved spines and strongly coiled pods.

Call the NSW DPI Helpline if you see anything that you suspect might be karoo acacia, prickly acacia or any non-Indigenous acacia other than mimosa bush.

Where is it found?

There are no current known infestations of karoo acacia in NSW. However, its preferred habitat and climate are similar to the native grasslands of central NSW so it could invade NSW rangelands. It also has potential to invade riparian areas in many parts of NSW. 

Karoo acacia grows in Africa, Asia, South America and parts of Europe.

It is a favourite food of the black rhinoceros and was planted in Australian botanical gardens and zoos in Dubbo Sydney and New castle to represent African landscapes. These acacia plants have been eradicated. 

What type of environment does it grow in?

Karoo acacia grows in many different soils types, climates and at many altitudes. Growth is limited by intense cold or lack of moisture. 

It grows best in areas with 400-900 mm rainfall per year and mean annual temperatures between 12°C and 24°C (although it can tolerate extremes of -12°C to 40°C).  

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Karoo acacia during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2023)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

By seed

Karoo acacia plants start producing fruit within 2 years. Large trees can produce up to 19,000 seeds per year. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for at least 7 years. Germination is improved by fire, weathering and passing through an animal’s gut.

The seeds can spread long distances in the droppings of animals, especially livestock that eat the pods. Seeds and pods can also be spread through waterways and short distances by wind.


CRC for Australian Weed Management (2003). Weed management guide - Karroo thorn.

Identic & Lucid (2016) Weeds of Australia Vachellia karroo. Retrieved 28 July 2017 from: https://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/weeds/data/media/Html/vachellia_karroo.htm

Munyati, C., Economon, E. B., & Malahlela, O. E. (2013). Effect of canopy cover and canopy background variables on spectral profiles of savanna rangeland bush encroachment species based on selected Acacia species (mellifera, tortilis, karroo) and Dichrostachys cinerea at Mokopane, South Africa. Journal of arid environments94, 121-126.

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (2020). Identification of prickle bushes Prickly acacia (Vachellia nilotica), Mesquite (Prosopis spp.), Parkinsonia (Parkinsonia aculeata), Mimosa bush (Vachellia farnesiana). Retrieved 25 August 2020 from: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/plants/weeds-pest-animals-ants/weeds/a-z-listing-of-weeds/photo-guide-to-weeds/mimosa-bush?a=72195

Queensland, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. (2011).  Weed risk assessment – Karroo thorn

Robbertse, P. J., Du Toit, E. S., & Annandale, J. G. (2014). Phenology and reproductive biology of Acacia karroo Hayne (Leguminosae: Mimosoideae). American Journal of Plant Sciences. 5, pp. 2074-2093.

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Please do not attempt to treat or dispose of this weed yourself. Report this plant if you see it anywhere in NSW by calling the helpline listed at the top of this page immediately.

NSW DPI will lead an initial response for the treatment and disposal of the plant to stop it from spreading.

Early detection

Since karoo acacia is not established in NSW, finding new infestations early gives us the best chance of eradicating it.


Basal bark, cut stump or stem injection methods can be used to apply herbicides. The plant reshoots from the base if cut, therefore herbicide should be applied to the stump after cutting and treated plants should be checked.

Herbicide options

Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.

PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Fluroxypyr 200 g/L (Comet® 200 herbicide)
Rate: 35mL per L diesel/kerosene
Comments: Basal bark
Withholding period: Do not graze failed crops and treated pastures or cut for stock feed for 7 days after application. See label for further information.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate

PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Starane™ Advanced)
Rate: 21 mL per L diesel/kerosene
Comments: Basal bark
Withholding period: Do not graze failed crops and treated pastures or cut for stock food for 7 days after application. See label for more information.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate

PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
Rate: One part product to 1.5 parts water
Comments: Cut stump, drill, frill axe or injection
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 9 (previously group M), Inhibition of 5-enolpyruvyl shikimate-3 phosphate synthase (EPSP inhibition)
Resistance risk: Moderate

PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L with Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: 1:1.5 glyphosate to water + 1 g metsulfuron to 1 L water
Comments: Stem injection
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 9 (previously group M), Inhibition of 5-enolpyruvyl shikimate-3 phosphate synthase (EPSP inhibition)
Resistance risk: Moderate

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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All pest plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
All of NSW Prohibited Matter
A person who deals with prohibited matter or a carrier of prohibited matter is guilty of an offence. A person who becomes aware of or suspects the presence of prohibited matter must immediately notify the Department of Primary Industries

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.

Reviewed 2022