Star of the season: Jacaranda
The purple veil that floats over Sydney in November is an international star – but not one most of us can bring home.
A jacaranda in full bloom looks like a giant ruffled crinoline of the kind that Scarlett O’Hara’s cousin may have worn to the ball.
The sight of these giant skirts forming a cotillion of purple around Sydney Harbour never fails to lift my spirits.
Admire, but resist the urge to plant unless you have a large garden.
Jacarandas originate in South America, and are now fairly common in dozens of cities in the subtropical regions of the American continent. There are 50 species in the genus, with Jacaranda mimosifolia the most commonly grown. In their natural habitat they can grow up to 30 metres in height and their wood is highly valued for carpentry. But it’s the flowers that, just like the bees, make us woozy with delight. Jacarandas flower on bare wood, increasing the impact of the giant skirts of intensely lavender-blue trumpets.
The bad news: you need plenty of space to create great effects with these trees. Australian-grown jacarandas will develop a crown of 10-15 metres wide and a height about the same. That makes them the wrong choice for a small backyard.
Where there is room, a match-up of purple and the rare white jacaranda make a dazzling duet.
In Sydney jacarandas are best enjoyed beyond the home garden. Hunters Hill and Lane Cove River offer especially good views from the water. On land, Paddington, Kirribilli and Balmain have streets washed with lilac.
Further afield, Grafton’s Jacaranda Festival has been running since 1935, and this year runs from October 27 to November 4. Expect parades, feasts, a crowning ceremony and lovely open gardens. Jacarandas were planted in large numbers in Adelaide in the 1920s and 1930s and are particularly prevalent in Unley and parts of the Mitcham and Burnside districts. In Brisbane they often flower in tandem with red-flowered poincianas, golden penda and fiery Illawarra flame trees.
Mexico City, Pretoria, Lisbon and Buenos Aires are all cities that are covered in a lilac glow in late spring.
Where electricity companies can be convinced to holster the chain saw, jacs make dramatic street trees.
If you do have room for a jacaranda, bequeath to future generations a wonderful shape by careful positioning (backlit in early morning or late afternoon is particularly photogenic). Pruning results in ugly vertical growth so we advise that the tree be allowed to naturally develop its sweeping horizontal branches.
Illawarra flame and jacaranda make a striking spring image.
The rare white jacaranda, Jacaranda mimosifolia alba, was introduced into Australia in 1960 by George Hewitt, a doctor from Bellingen, NSW, who imported them from a collector in Florida. Bellingen Hospital’s original white jacaranda still flowers in the grounds, and like the Ross family one, has parented many offspring.
Come with us
We celebrate jacaranda season with a three-hour cruise around Sydney Harbour, complete with afternoon tea and in-depth commentary about the harbour’s fascinating history. We leave Cockle Bay Wharf on Wednesdays and Sundays. Garden clubs and groups are welcome. Call 1300 233 200 to book.