I must have blinked — for about a month. Did you notice the jacarandas were blooming, and have practically bloomed themselves out? I did not. Can’t say where the Spring went, seems like it just started and now it’s almost gone. I’m a big fan of Summer so that’s OK. In fact I’d say right now is my favorite time, just before Summer, when you know you’re about to have all that Summer but you haven’t used any of it yet. Kinda like one big long Friday night. But I AM bummed out I somehow sleepwalked through the prime of jacaranda blooming. So today I rused my daughter into taking a ride with me to seek out and savor the last of the season’s splendor. “Would you like to do a little shoe shopping?” I called out (to my basically shoeless progeny). “I need to take a few pictures, we can do that at the same time.” You’ll see — when you’re outnumbered by your children you’ll resort to sneaky measures too.
Much to my surprise she took quite well to the hunting of purple trees. She posed (pertinent) questions, asked to take pictures, and even led me to one of her friend’s houses where she quite accurately remembered there to be a species of exactly what we were looking for. We had a lovely time and she did not once give me that look like jeez mom you’re a little weird. I know I tried her patience because at one point she switched off jacarandas and switched on a game on my cell phone. “Are we still in La Mesa?” she asked glancing up, seeing nothing familiar as we threaded through the foothills of Mt Helix. Limit reached. Time to go shoe shopping.
I realized as we were tree searching that I didn’t know much about jacarandas besides their name. We had one in our front yard when I was a kid (and immune to finding plants interesting). I remember my dad griping a lot about what a mess it was to sweep up the flowers. In fact if today he were to arrive at someone’s house who had just planted a new jacaranda he’d probably say something like my (mother-of-three) friend said to me when she saw me waddle up her front walk expecting my third child: Oh dear, didn’t anyone tell you?(!) Our neighbors, the ones with the hummingbird nest, have a jacaranda that hangs over their driveway. They hate sweeping it too. It’s even mentioned in the newspaper articles I came across while I was trying to find out about the species — the jacaranda is the bane of all sweepers. But my dad must have developed a soft spot in his heart for the majesty of his purple friend, because they are both still tolerating each other.
I wondered if La Mesa has more jacarandas than other local cities. And if so, why? I wondered if it is a native or imported species. How many ‘versions’ of it are there? How long does it take to grow (one of my daughter’s questions too). How tall can it get? Where are the most spectacular ones? Is there anyone in town whose job it is to document the existence of spectacular plants? In French there is a word for wealth, “richesse”. And there is another word for wealth which means something like our family or national treasure, “patrimoine”. Trees fall into the domain of patrimoine in the hearts of the French. And I agree. Try to imagine a place without trees, or other plants. How different would it all seem? The jacaranda goes way beyond just filling in the landscape. It’s like a gem, like a gift to the eyes.
This is what I found out after some rooting around on the Web: the jacaranda is the official urban tree of San Diego. (The official native tree is the Torrey Pine.) It is native to tropical and subtropical regions of South America (especially Brazil), Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It also lives well in Florida and Arizona (Phoenix). It’s apparently also popular in parts of Australia and in South Africa. Kate Sessions, a horticulturist known as “the mother of Balboa Park” (1857-1940), is responsible for having brought the jacaranda, and many other exotic species, to San Diego. (THANK YOU Kate.) There are 49 species in the Jacaranda genus, ranging in size from 6 to 98 feet tall. Their flowers range in color from blue to purple-blue and in some species may be white. Well, that was rather dry. But hey, at least we know a little more than when we started.
In case you don’t have time to catch the last purple-y blooms before they ploof to the ground (and you know they are ploofing at this very moment), here are some pictures from our shopping trip…