A PURPLE PATCH

I THOUGHT our jacaranda tree in the front garden was gorgeous before it rained last night. The downpour has stripped much of the intense purple blossom from the limbs and covered the ground below in a thick,  almost iridescent carpet. Now it is truly a vision. It dazzles  me every time I look out the window. I daresay even a painter would have trouble reproducing this colour.

Our jacaranda ( jacaranda mimosifolia)  is the most common “blue” variety. It is always more pleasing because it is a late bloomer. While most here in Queensland erupt into blossom in October, this one is rarely in flower before November.  But it seems to spring overnight from bare, straggly branches to a canopy of violet  blooms that light up the landscape and simultaneously lift our spring hearts. During the winter, in its dormant mode, it looks a nondescript specimen, supporting an undercover of flowering gingers, bromeliads and impatiens, but come spring, it steals their limelight absolutely with its magnificent bonanza.

Jacaranda carpet on our lawn

Here in Queensland we associate jacarandas with exams and end of year swatting.

Best suited to warm coastal areas, they grow to 10m high and 10m wide , and are a purple wash across the suburbs and parks in Australia  from Sydney up to the north of the country and across to Perth.  Some jacarandas do grow in cooler climes, but generally are smaller in height and spread.

Like many a splendid ornamental tree, it is native to central and South America, but its nearly 50  species are found around the world, in tropical and sub tropical Mexico, Asia, Africa, America, the Caribbean, India, Portugal, Fiji and New Zealand.

Zimbabwe splendour

Street trees in Buenos Aires

Bhutan in bloom

Auckland jacaranda

Other members of the jacaranda genus are also commercially important; for example the Copaia (Jacaranda copaia) is important for its timber because of its exceptionally long trunk.

Jacaranda is a tupi ( Brazilian) word meaning “hard branch”, yet a glance through the meaning of girls’ names has it listed as Spanish for “strong odour” .  (So it might not be the kindest moniker to give a little one.)

Several cities around the world have adopted the jacaranda as their emblem. Pretoria in South Africa is known as the Jacaranda City and the University of Pretoria holds that if a blossom from one of the trees falls on your head during exam time, you will pass everything.

Grafton,  on the north coast of New South Wales,  Australia is also famous for its jacarandas. Each year in late October and early November, they hold a Jacaranda festival during the period of full bloom. A street parade, local public holiday and a series of events are held and a Jacaranda Queen and Jacaranda Princess are named at a ball in the tree’s honor.

The main street of the town of Red Cliffs, Victoria was named Jacaranda Street in the original town plans of the early 1920s and jacaranda trees planted to line it.

They are also popular in the southern and central parts of Florida and south-western United States, notably in Phoenix, Arizona and San Diego, California. They were introduced to Israel over 50 years ago, where they are in full bloom during May.

In Brisbane, the history of the jacaranda tree began with a single tree planted in the city Botanic Gardens by superintendent Walter Hill in 1864.  It is considered to be the first jacaranda planted in Australia and is featured in perhaps Queensland’s most famous painting, the 1903 R. Godfrey Rivers Under the Jacaranda. The tree was blown over in a storm in 1980.

“Under the Jacaranda” painting by Godfrey Rivers

The story goes that wheat was exported to Argentina, Brazil and Chile in those days and the ships would come back to Brisbane empty except for gneiss ballast rocks. Hill got the rocks for the gardens and also got a jacaranda seed from a ship’s captain. That jacaranda was the forbear for all the jacarandas in and around Brisbane and in Grafton,  the offspring propagated by seed and cuttings.

Brazilian Jacaranda is used as the wood for the body of acoustic guitars. The Chinese use the flowers to make a distinctive purple dye.

As with the saying,” One man’s meat is another man’s poison”,  the floral profusion is regarded as magnificent by some and messy by others. Some friends won’t park in my driveway when ours is flowering, dropping blossom all over their cars.

Car confetti

The flowers are up to 5 cm long, and are grouped in 30cm panicles and last  for up to two months. They are followed by woody seed pods, about 5 cm in diameter, which contain numerous flat, winged seeds. Because they are sloppy and clumsy in a vase, these blooms are not commonly picked and displayed, but I always love to bring a little of the outside in.

Cut jacaranda

I have wondered why I am so drawn to blue and its related shades of mauve and purple in the garden and think it’s because it is not common and I like its cool, relaxing look against green foliage.

Hence I also love my wild and lovely plumbago,  elegant agapanthus,  hyacinth, otocanthus, delphiniums, the climbing lovely wisteria, and have just happened upon a stunning blue beauty called Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ( Blue Blossom). The universe led me to it via a delightful blog by artist Thelma Chambers,  who painted one for a friend, believing he could never do it justice in a photograph.  The friend’s name is Connolly and she has thus named her work,  Connolly’s tree.

Snap! My maiden name is Connolly. A tree with our name on it!

Connolly blue tree painting

And, it IS a stunner!. Probably gives the jacaranda a run for its money. That’s it below.

Blue blossom

Now where to plant?

I DID BAT AN EYELID AT THIS!

To all of you undergoing discomfort or worse at the growing flying fox colonies coming across and into your properties, I wonder how you like the way  Madagascar have taken matters in hand.

They eat them.

According to Leon Kluge, who writes on the GardenDrum website,  flying fox is considered a delicacy there and it is common to pull up at crossroads there and see trays of freshly cooked fruit bat for sale as a takeaway food. Apparently, they’ll need protecting there soon,  it’s so popular.

Now that could really start a BLUE!

Enjoy the fruits of your garden.

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jean said,

    Julie.. so well timed this article is.. thank you very much for this amazing insight into our beloved Jacaranda tree. Just yesterday we were wondering where/how/when it originated.. you’re a honey! Thanks – rgds j x

  2. 2

    Thanks for a great blog. Here in Sydney Jacarandas also grow brilliantly and there is a purple haze right across the city right now! Deirdre

  3. 3

    peter connolly said,

    Julie, hi. I enjoy your garden news. It’s full of interesting stories. Easy reading. I’m keeping an eye on our orchids. They’re a delight to behold when they flower. Jacarandas and Flame trees this year seem more dazzling than ever before. I’ve seen some outstanding examples. Just had to photograph one such Flame tree in Oxley Road. After last week’s rain, the purple carpets were spectacular. We’re enjoying the ABC show about the Moody family. Well written. Peter C.


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