Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beautiful Jacaranda Tree

One of three tropical/subtropical tree flowers is the jacaranda, which should be in full bloom right now in the southern hemisphere. I visited Grafton, Queensland, Australia, a little above south latitude of 30 degrees during the hilarious Jacaranda Week. Rows of jacaranda trees, specifically on Pound Street, has an imposing grandeur. The jacaranda float procession lasts over a few hours, smaller but quite beautiful than what I've seen in the U.S., like the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, New Year's Rose Parade in Pasadena, or the Cinco de Mayo Parade in San Diego. The festival starts with the jacaranda queen, followed by the princess beauty competitions and ending with the crowning ceremony.

The various local arts and crafts group exhibitions are held throughout the week. I traveled down the Mighty Clarence River to the Pacific Ocean and the beach. Thanks to the foresight of the city founders well over a century ago, Grafton is blessed with more than 6500 trees providing shade and 24 carefully maintained, beautiful parks, which is adjacent to the Clock Tower ornament, a great spot for lunch and the focus of many jacaranda activities.

Back in Japan in the mid 1990s, I met my neighboring couple who returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. They were in the mining business and spent some years in Lubumbashi, formerly called Elizabethville, a town bordering Zambia. I found the location is a little below south latitude of 10 degrees but the couple mentioned how they miss the purple hills veiled in purple mist of jacaranda flowers. I learned the city of Lubumbashi is a highland between 1000 to 2000 meters and that explains the tree acclimatization.

Now another friend of mine, after his visit with his son who had been stationed in Pretoria, South Africa, told me that the city of Pretoria is familiarly known as Jacaranda City. I found Pretoria is just in between south latitude of 20 and 30 degrees, about the same latitude as Grafton, Australia. However, the jacaranda was not native to Pretoria; several horticulturalists, since the late 1800s, imported the trees from Brazil and Australia to Cape Town, Sunnyside, Groenkloof and Pretoria and in due course, jacaranda became so popular and were extensively planted that Pretoria, in particular, became known as the jacaranda city. As a matter of fact, about 50,000 jacaranda trees were reported lined inside the 250 miles of streets in and around Pretoria in the official guidebook. Probably a similar thing happened with jacarandas in Lumumbashi. The tree is regarded as an invader tree, as it grows in poor soil, and is drought tolerant.

Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate and ex-President of South Africa, referred to the jacaranda tree in his inaugural speech:

"To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom..."

My Brazilian friend sent me his jacaranda photos from the famous Ibirapuera City Park of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the jacaranda tree originated. In the northern hemisphere, I'm pleased to list many places of jacaranda cities along the north 30 degree latitude, starting with Mexico, California, Florida, Mediterranean coast cities, Egypt, India, Bhutan, …, etc. It is in the month of May they blossom, instead of November. My memories of Cuernavaca, Mexico and Okinawa, Japan are still vivid with jacaranda purple and the burning flam trees and spathodea, two other great tropical trees.

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