|Scientific name:||Acacia tortilis (Forskk.) Hayne|
|Common name:||Umbrella Thorn Acacia|
|Hebrew name:||שיטת הסוכך|
|Plant Family:||Mimosaceae, שיטיים|
|Leaves:||Alternate, compound, bipinnate or more|
|Flowering Period:||April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December|
|Habitat:||Desert, Thermophilous plants|
|Distribution:||Semi-steppe shrublands, Shrub-steppes, Deserts and extreme deserts|
Derivation of the botanical name:
Acacia, from the Greek word akis, meaning a point or a barb.
tortilis, means twisted and refers to the pod structure.
The umbrella thorn grows to a heights between 4 to 7 metres tall in areas with annual rainfall as low as 40 mm and as much as 1200 mm, with dry seasons of 1-12 months. It has a multiple of not very straight trunks growing at an angle out of the base of the tree, which produce a foliage crown resembling an umbrella with a flattened top. The spines are in pairs, some short and hooked up to 5mm long, mixed with long straight spines. The presence of these two types of thorns distinguishes the umbrella thorn acacia from other acacias. Leaves are 1-7 cm long, with 2-14 pinnae each with 6-22 pairs of leaflets. The young branches, leaves and fruits are hairy. It flowers in April through December and the flowers are white to pale yellow, which later develop into bunches of spirally twisted, indehiscent pods (not opening spontaneously at maturity to release seeds). The pods contain several hard seeds, high in crude protein (38%) and phosphorus so very nutritious. The pods are eaten by wild and domestic animals, and sometimes by man, they have 12-19% protein content. The foliage is also palatable and provides food and shade for animals, insects live in the foliage, and insect-feeding birds build nests in its branches. The tree's roots spread out, quite often, beyond the span of the tree's foliage, and they follow the flow of any nearby water, sinking to about five feet beneath the ground.
The Arava acacias, as products of an arid climate, are very sensitive to any change in the flow of water in their riverbed environment. Tracks left by even one ATV can cause the death of a century-old acacia. Depending on the area in which the tree is situated, the dying process can continue for many years. A tree that does not get enough water produces increasingly fewer leaves, flowers and fruit. The animal life that depends upon the tree is then reduced accordingly, eventually resulting in the deaths of large numbers of animals. Any road-building that involves detouring the riverbed, however slightly, must be carefully engineered. Additional water-conducting channels beneath roads must be planned to avoid riverbed blockage. In the absence of these considerations, the entire landscape and ecology of the Arava could change, spelling disaster for the entire region.
The Acacia tortillis, the Shittim from the Bible, is presumed as being the wood from which the Biblical Ark of the Tabernacle was made: "And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand" (Deuteronomy 10:3). The ark built for the Tabernacle was about 2.9 feet long. Certainly the height of these trees would not enable 220 inch planks of wood to be cut out of the trunks. So we must assume that the species of acacia trees around the Sinai desert in 1552-1551 BC were much taller than they are today.The ark was the first piece of furniture built for the Tabernacle. Shittim wood is a beautiful orange-colored wood, quite heavy and close grained. As it ages, this wood will darken. It is quite insect-resistant.
Exodus 25:10-13 "Have them make a chest of acacia wood-two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high [That is, about 3 3/4 feet (about 1.1 meters) long and 2 1/4 feet (about 0.7 meter) wide and high]. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold."
The book of Numbers 33:49 does record that the Israelites camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. "Abel Shittim" is translated "meadow of the acacias."
Shittim Acacias, also called "Abel-shittim", is a plain or valley in the land of Moab, where the Israelites were encamped after their two victories over Sihon and Og, at the close of their desert wanderings, and from which Joshua sent forth two spies: "And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there. (Jos 2:1). Shittim is also mentioned in Hosea 5.2; Joel 3.18; and Micah 6.5). The shittah tree is mentioned only once in the Bible: Isaiah 41:19 "I will put in the desert the cedar and the shittah tree, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together."