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A purple patch

Julie Thomson

Julie Thomson

November 21, 2012

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.

In Kirribilli, Sydney

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.

In Auckland

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.

In Bhutan

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.

In Buenos Aires

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.)

In Zimbabwe

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.

Under the Jacaranda

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.


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.

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.

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).

Connolly’s Tree by Thelma Chambers


The universe led me to it via a delightful blog by artist Thelma Chambers, who painted one for a friend, believing she 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! And, it IS a stunner!. Probably gives the jacaranda a run for its money. Now where to plant?


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Jennifer Stackhouse
Jennifer Stackhouse
10 years ago

Another story about the origins of jacaranda in Australia is that they arrived in Sydney and were grown in the garden at Clarens, one of the mansions that lined Potts Point (near today’s Kings Cross and above the naval base). The owner of the garden was James Martin – later Sir James Martin – for whom Martin Place in Sydney is named. He developed the garden, filling it with exotic plants and amazing sculptures, between the mid 1850s to the mid 1860s. I am sure that many captains sailing to Australia brought seeds of this amazing tree and helped introduce it to our gardens and city streets.
As a post script – ceanothus does best in a cool to temperate climate in well-drained soil. A hot, wet summer may see it turn up it toes! Jennifer

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Thanks Jennifer, I will tread carefully with the Ceanothus plan.

Florian Wolf
Florian Wolf
7 years ago

I killed several Ceanothus species & hybrids in our Townsville garden, which in summer is hot & humid. Jacaranda and Bolusanthus speciosus in contrast work a treat up here.

Leon kluge
10 years ago

Jacarandas are spectacular trees when in flower, in Pretoria and Johannesburg we have a couple of streets where we have white jacarandas, just as nice! Unfortunately in Africa they have found their second home, and they are everywhere, and is now on the illegal plants list, thus there is a big drive by government to eradicate them out, and replace them with indigenous similiar trees like Bolusanthus speciosus or called the tree wisteria. I was also a student running around manically trying to get a jacaranda blossom to fall on my head, wonder what the students will use now …

bernhard feistel
bernhard feistel
10 years ago

It was wonderful to follow your visual enjoyment and then the backing up of it by historic, anecdotal and personal evidence (or chance?) just like a stream of consciousness. And indeed, the (sometimes sudden) falling down of blossoms and the evolving patterns are often so overwhelming that one cannot but hold one’s breath. It’s the same (perhaps more sombre) with the current falling down of leaves in our sphere where symmetrical sundials are being put on the south-facing side…

Catherine Stewart
10 years ago

I like that idea Bernhard. Complementary carpeting colours on either side of the world – blue-purple across the southern hemisphere and orange-yellow in the northern.

James Beattie
James Beattie
10 years ago

I do love jacarandas. We had two large ones in our backyard as kids. My father planted them with one of my elder sisters some 30 years ago. We’ve had so many family ‘barbies and celebrations beneath their branches – in times of much joy, and occasional sorrow. It’s wonderful the way some plants can hold such a fundamental grip on your mind, prompting you to recall a multitude of memories, feelings and sensations. The jacaranda is definitely mine.
Loved the picture with the old Ford, Julie!

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Yes, too true James. Many memories held in and around tree trunks. I used to sit in an old mango tree of ours as a kid and empty my thoughts into it. If it could talk!!!!
Wonder if any of the falling blossoms made their way into one of your “barbie” salads?

Tammy Schmitt
10 years ago

I don’t think jacaranda grow in the US, at least not near DC. I’ve never seen them here. What a beauty!! I’d love to have such a stunning tree in my garden. The purple flowers remind me of a wisteria vine.

Arno King
Arno King
10 years ago

Hello Julie

I’m a great fan of Jacarandas as well. They are simply amazing.

Have you noticed how they often flower again in January and March if we have a good growing season? There are only a few spikes of flowers and they are scattered above the foliage, but they are still very showy. As it is often a lot wetter and overcast at this time of year, the flowers appear much deeper in colour.

I agree with Jennifer regarding Ceanothus. Not the plant for our climate. This plant loves hot dry summers and wet winters and does not last long or look too good in a warm climate garden.


Matthew Scrivener
Matthew Scrivener
5 years ago

Jacarandas are a common sight on the North Shore of Sydney, more so than other regions of the city. I was once told a story that a groundskeeper at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital would grow the seedlings and give a plant as a present to each mum after having a baby there. And these were planted all over the suburbs served by this hospital.

I’m not sure if there is any truth to the story but it is quite a charming though. Does anyone know more details or if it is just an urban myth?