Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Bouquet for Jacarandas

Has anyone noticed it's been a glorious year for Jacaranda flowers? Jacarandas are native to South America and I'm not sure how widespread the species is elsewhere, so I'll describe them for my overseas readers. Jacaranda trees grow to a prodigious height of over 20m. The bark is flat & silvery on the boughs but rough at the bole. Leaflets are only 1cm long but are arranged into compound fronds up to 40cm, giving the tree one of its alternative names, the fern tree.

For maybe eight weeks a year, in late Spring, the Jacaranda blooms so heavily it's branches are bowed. Clusters of amethyst flowers shaped like long, curved bells change the complexion of the whole tree. Deciduous, the tree looks spare and skeletal over winter, but come Spring, I have always taken Jacarandas as the very harbinger of happy, outdoor times, warm afternoons and new growth. Then, in December, she sheds her mauve dress and it lays on the ground like a discarded shawl.

In my town, whole streets are lined with Jacarandas and for whatever reason they are a sight of special magnificence this year. It warms my heart to see them, for I feel a special connection with the Jacaranda.

When I was small, I grew up as much at my Grandparent's home as in my own. The family property at Glenhaven used to be a farm and orchard and my great-grandparents were the local postmasters.

Glenhaven Post Office, painted 1973.

Over time, urban development encroached and the property was whittled down from scores of acres to a single acre by the time I was born. But at the centre of that acre, imperial and defiant, was a giant Jacaranda.

This tree was so big people used to park outside the fence and paint it. She was a local landmark, a queen, and she marked the seasons of my life with her blooms from ages nought to fifteen, when my grandparent's ill health forced us to sell up the remaining plot after over 120 years. My sister and I had climbed her trunk and lain along her lower branches since we could walk. The dog's kennel was at her buttressed feet.

By the time we had to sell my Grandparent's property in the late 80's, even our acre was an aberrant luxury, an anachronism of lawns and groves, surrounded by grotesque McMansions on a quarter-acre or less. When we sold, it was on the condition that the property kept its boundaries, and that special features like our Jacaranda would be saved. This softened the blow. In fact, it was the real-estate agent himself that bought the property. Assurances were made. They were lies. All lies.

Naturally, within a short time the Jacaranda was chopped down and three more houses were built on the acre, with the real-estate agent laughing all the way to damnation.

We had taken some seedlings of the original tree and planted them at my parent's property, and a row of them line our front fence and are dotted elsewhere on the property, along with a real prize, a rare white Jacaranda.
A rare white Jacaranda

These trees are now about my age, 30+, and are doing well. I've noticed with some satisfaction that their blooms are deeper, more numerous and superior to those of some other Jacarandas that were already on the property, and in time will also make excellent climbing trees.

Jacaranda flowers give way to disc-shaped seed pods. When they are dry they open like bivalve molluscs to release their seeds. I've seen millions of such seed pods, but once, and only once, something different...

A regular two sided Jacaranda seedpod
Bizarro mutant three sided Jacaranda seedpod.
Years ago, the big Jacaranda threw a seedpod with an extra side, a "trivalve symmetry", if you will. We've kept it all this time, like a four leaf clover. I've never seen a mutation anything like it before or since.

- Nathan Zamprogno


Monkeytree said...

I've always liked Jacaranda trees - they're particularly good climbing trees. There's a really good one in McQuade park in Windsor, north of the cricket oval.

When I was growing up we had a Jacaranda in the back yard. It wouldn't flower for the first few years of its life, so my grandpa took a piece of 4 by 2 and gave it a good whacking - that made it flower. Apparently if the tree feels under threat it starts to put more effort into reproduction. Cool, yes?

Monkeytree said...

Interestingly, when I was up in Mackay, Jacarandas were quite prolific but they all had bright orange flowers. I didn't see one purple one at all. Obviously this is due to magic.

Anonymous said...

Hey i found a three sided pod as well, planted the seeds from it and hopefully will get a tree with the same pods.

Unknown said...

You might be interested to read my article "White Christmas in Australia" about the White Jacaranda