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Explorer Thomas Mitchell collected the type specimen, from which George Bentham wrote the species description in 1842. No subspecies are recognised. The bark of A. pycnantha produces more tannin than any other wattle species, resulting in its commercial cultivation for production of this compound. It has been widely grown as an ornamental garden plant and for cut flower production, but has become a weed in South Africa, Tanzania, Italy, Portugal, Sardinia, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, as well as Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales. Acacia pycnantha was made the official floral emblem of Australia in 1988, and has been featured on the country's postal stamps.
Acacia pycnantha was first formally described by botanist George Bentham in the London Journal of Botany in 1842. The type specimen was collected by the explorer Thomas Mitchell in present-day northern Victoria between Pyramid Hill and the Loddon River. Bentham thought it was related to A. leiophylla, which he described in the same paper. The specific epithet pycnantha is derived from the Greek words pyknos (dense) and anthos (flower), a reference to the dense cluster of flowers that make up the globular inflorescences. Queensland botanist Les Pedley reclassified the species as Racosperma pycnanthum in 2003, when he proposed placing almost all Australian members of the genus into the new genus Racosperma. However, this name is treated as a synonym of its original name.
Johann Georg Christian Lehmann described Acacia petiolaris in 1851 from a plant grown at Hamburg Botanic Gardens from seed said to be from the Swan River Colony (Perth).  Carl Meissner described A. falcinella from material from Port Lincoln in 1855. Bentham classified both as A. pycnantha in his 1864 Flora Australiensis, though he did categorise a possible subspecies angustifolia based on material from Spencer Gulf with narrower phyllodes and fewer inflorescences. However, no subspecies are currently recognised, though an informal classification distinguishes wetland and dryland forms, the latter with narrower phyllodes.
In 1921 Joseph Maiden described Acacia westonii from the northern and western slopes of Mount Jerrabomberra near Queanbeyan in New South Wales. He felt it was similar to, but distinct from, A. pycnantha and was uncertain whether it warranted species rank. His colleague Richard Hind Cambage grew seedlings and reported they had much longer internodes than those of A. pycnantha, and that the phyllodes appeared to have three nectaries rather than the single one of the latter species. It is now regarded as a synonym of A. pycnantha.
Outside Australia it has become naturalised in South Africa, Tanzania, Italy, Portugal, Sardinia, India, Indonesia and New Zealand. It is present in California as a garden escapee, but is not considered to be naturalised there. In South Africa, where it had been introduced between 1858 and 1865 for dune stabilization and tannin production, it had spread along waterways into forest, mountain and lowland fynbos, and borderline areas between fynbos and karoo. The gall-forming wasp Trichilogaster signiventris has been introduced in South Africa for biological control and has reduced the capacity of trees to reproduce throughout their range. The eggs are laid by adult wasps into buds of flower heads in the summer, before hatching in May and June when the larvae induce the formation of the grape-like galls and prevent flower development. The galls can be so heavy that branches break under their weight. In addition, the introduction in 2001 of the acacia seed weevil Melanterius compactus has also proved effective.
Like other wattles, Acacia pycnantha fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere. It hosts bacteria known as rhizobia that form root nodules, where they make nitrogen available in organic form and thus help the plant grow in poor soils. A field study across Austral