The city has a blue rinse when the jacarandas bloom.

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. It dazzles me every time I look out the window.

Our jacaranda (jacaranda mimosifolia) is the most common “blue” variety. 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 winter, while dormant, it looks nondescript, supporting an undercover of flowering gingers, bromeliads and impatiens, but come spring, it steals the limelight with its magnificent bonanza.

Students associate jacarandas with exams and end of year swatting. Not just in Australia, though. Pretoria, 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.

Best suited to warm coastal areas, these trees 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.

World spread

This splendid ornamental tree 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, USA and Israel.

Some of the jacaranda genus are also commercially important; for example the Copaia (Jacaranda copaia) is significant for its timber because of its exceptionally long trunk. Brazilian Jacaranda wood is used for the body of acoustic guitars. The Chinese use the flowers to make a distinctive purple dye.

Jacaranda is a tupi (Brazilian) word meaning “hard branch”, however it’s listed in the meaning of girls’ names as Spanish for “strong odour” – so think twice about choosing it for your offspring.

It has entered the lexicon of many regional towns in Australia. Grafton, in northern New South Wales has a Jacaranda festival during this period of full bloom. 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.

Brisbane beginning

In Brisbane, the jacaranda profusion began with a single tree planted in the city Botanic Gardens by superintendant Walter Hill in 1864.  It is considered to be the first jacaranda planted in Australia and is featured in what is considered Queensland’s most famous painting, the 1903 R. Godfrey Rivers Under the Jacaranda. The tree was blown over in a storm in 1980 but you can see the painting at the Queensland Art Gallery.

The story goes that our wheat was exported to Argentina, Brazil and Chile and the ships would come back to Brisbane empty except for gneiss ballast rocks. As well as the rock, Walter Hill got a jacaranda seed from a ship’s captain. That was the forebear for all the jacarandas in and around Brisbane and in Grafton.

So glad he did.