Acacia karroo Hayne (Mimosoideae; Fabaceae) is a highly polymorphic species, ranging in height from 1 m to more than 30 m, and with enormous variation in the architecture of adults. Some populations of A. karroo with different morphologies are situated less than 20 km apart. This species has been considered to be a ring species on the basis of allozyme variation. I wished to determine whether this was supported by sapling morphology, and by chemical and physical defences to herbivory. I raised four phenotypes from the restricted area of Zululand (South Africa) in a common garden with controls, and with water and nutrient supplementation. I found that each of the four phenotypes maintained their differences in spite of nutrient and water supplementation. There was no significant genotype by environment interaction. I also found that the coastal population was significantly larger than another phenotype that grows just 12 km inland from it, suggesting that there might be local adaptation of these genotypes to particular soil types. I confirm that A. karroo maintains morphological differentiation even when there is substantial alteration of water and nutrient availability. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 104, 748–755.