Background and aims Phosphorus (P) is a commonly limiting nutrient for plant growth in natural environments. Many legumes capable of N2-fixation require more P than non-legumes do. Some legume crops can use sparingly soluble forms of P such as iron phosphate much better than other species, but reports on the ability of woody legumes to access iron phosphate are rare. Methods Plants of four Acacia species (Acacia stipuligera F. Muell., A. ancistrocarpa Maiden & Blakely, A. stellaticeps Kodela, Tindale & D. Keith and A. robeorum Maslin), native to the Great Sandy Desert in north-western Australia, were grown in a glasshouse in river sand with different levels of iron phosphate, between 0 and 16 μg Pg 1 sand. Plant growth, tissue P concentrations, and pH and carboxylates in the rhizosphere were measured. Results Growth of A. stipuligera and A. ancistrocarpa was not responsive to increased P supply; in contrast, A. stellaticeps and A. robeorum produced significantly more root and shoot dry mass at 8 and 16 μg P g 1 sand than at 0 μg P g 1 sand; differences in root mass ratio were significant between species but not between P treatments. A. robeorum was the only species colonised by mycorrhizal fungi, and the colonisation percentage decreased with increasing P supply. In all species, P-uptake rates and tissue P concentrations were significantly higher at greater P supply. Rhizosphere pH and the amount of carboxylates in the rhizosphere decreased with increasing P supply. Conclusions Net P uptake increased with increasing P supply, showing that the present Acacia species can access P from iron phosphate. However, due to their inherently slow growth rate, enhanced P supply did not increase growth of two of the four studied species. The ability of the Acacia species to access P from iron phosphate is presumably related with carboxylate exudation and rhizosphere acidification.