On jacarandas in bloom

On the spring staple.

Art by Ellie Stephenson.

“There rose a Purple Creature —
That ravished all the Hill —

Creator — Shall I — bloom?”

(Emily Dickinson, 1863)

Every year, a purple creature blooms. As spring fades away, as coats find their place in wardrobes, forgotten, and as late sunsets bathe the city in crimson light, we gaze at the jacaranda trees that ravish the hill.

To be precise, Emily Dickinson spoke of the gentian, but I feel that her ode rather suits the jacaranda. Dickinson’s frosty New England isn’t the spot for a subtropical tree, but here, it abounds. The jacaranda mimosifolia hails from distant Brazil, and in the mid-nineteenth-century, a specimen was planted in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden. A wave of indigo flowers began to flow across the city, and the jacarandas flooded the streets in delicate rain. 

When I was little, my mother told me a story about the jacaranda. Once upon a time in old Sydney town, there was a midwife, and to every little baby that she brought into the world, she gave out a little jacaranda sapling. As each family arrived back home, they planted that little sapling in their front garden — the jacarandas sprung up everywhere. Whenever I see a jacaranda, I like to think of it as a tribute to a certain, long-lost little newborn. The Australian poet, Douglas Stewart, wrote, “The jacaranda flames on the air like a ghost,” and as I reflect on this, I think of the new baby from another age, lying beside the sapling, the two growing as one, the blond-haired boy learning to climb the auburn trunk, the first kiss below the boughs, the man, now grey, hobbling over to collect the fallen twigs, and the jacaranda standing proud for centuries after him.

Doesn’t a jacaranda in bloom bring the same joy as a twinkling newborn? As the violet trumpets burst from their stems, we coo. The trees flaunt their blossoms, filling the late spring air with honeyed perfume, and we’re mesmerised. We gather in hordes, the Magi bowing in worship. We take countless photographs, savouring the ephemeral moment. We find joy in knowing that when the jacaranda comes to life, good things are on the horizon.

The jacaranda is the bringer of the jollity that is summertime. Once the flowers wither, weaving a bruised lilac carpet on the footpath below, we’re there. The sunrise swims, meditating in the wide blue sea, the strawberry ice-creams that melt in the afternoon sun and the evening barbecues that float into the morning. 

Some lament that the jacaranda incites a “purple panic,” a result of the synchrony between its bloom and university examination periods. I think that it’s a welcome sign of the beautiful times to come. I have always waited impatiently for the jacaranda to bloom, for the purple creature to ravish the hill, for the ghost to flame on the air, and I cannot wait to spot the first hints of a blossom this year. Recently, I heard from a friend who wrote that this summer will be the one she muses on when she’s old — the flowering jacaranda will herald the occasion.

The late Argentine poet, María Elena Walsh, once sang…

“La vieja está en la cueva
Pero ya saldrá
Para ver que bonito nieva
Del jacarandá.
The old woman is in the cave, but she’ll come out to see how beautifully the jacaranda snows.”

Romanticism, of course, can be indulgent; for so many, this summer will not be a thing of beauty. Yet, I hope that when the jacarandas bloom, we can see how beautifully they snow, and dream just a little.