The problem with the jacaranda, they claim, is that its flowers stain sidewalks, stick to your shoes and leave marks on linoleum floors or – worst of all – adhere to the wax on your car.
Jacarandas, of course, were here long before sidewalks or linoleum or car wax. Our job, in fact, is to make sure jacarandas are still here when linoleum and car wax go the way of other items in our brief history.
Could you really live through May and June without the mauve-blue flowers of the jacaranda? One of its common names is the blue haze tree, an appellation that hints at the cloud of flowers that engulf it annually. I am fortunate that, next door to our house, there is a magnificent specimen of this tree. It is more than 50 feet tall and lays a carpet of flowers on our lawn for several weeks each spring.
This year, the jacarandas could be less floriferous than usual. Native to the arid regions of Brazil, the jacaranda flowers are prolific following dry winters but more sparse after considerable rain, such as that experienced in Los Angeles this year. Following a wet winter, the jacaranda is more likely to show lots of leafy growth and few blooms; in the wake of a dry winter, myriad flowers come out before a single leaf is seen on the tree.
The jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) is among that class of plants referred to as semi-deciduous (semi-evergreen). This means that it loses its leaves all at once, but starts to regrow them after only a month or two. In the case of the jacaranda, such a leafless condition occurs during February and March.
The jacaranda is not particular about soil, although it grows best under well-drained, somewhat acidic conditions. It is cold sensitive, especially when young, and is only occasionally encountered in Santa Clarita or the colder parts of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys (zone 18 in the Sunset Western Garden Book). I have been observing a specimen in Woodland
Hills that, though planted 10 years ago, has yet to flower.
The jacaranda dislikes cold wind and grows away from it; if you see a jacaranda leaning in a particular direction, this is an indication of where the prevailing winds in your area are coming from.
If you are determined to grow this tree in a marginally cold climate, you can do so by keeping it next to a south facing wall. The wall will provide it with an extra measure of reflected heat during the winter, and will block out the cold north winds for which our valleys are famous.
Jacarandas make fine container specimens, and should be given the same care, more or less, as tropical hibiscuses. Grow them in a mix that is half peat moss and half well-rotted compost. To produce a small, flowering jacaranda plant, you will have to root 4- to 6-inch shoot tip cuttings taken
from a mature plant in late June. Grown from seed, the jacaranda will have to reach eight or ten feet before it flowers.
So refined and exceptional are its leaves that some lovers of the jacaranda are not concerned about whether flowers are ever produced. The seeds, which are carried in circular, flat, brown capsules, germinate easily. Young plants are hardly distinguishable from ferns, and make elegant indoor plants, as long as light and humidity are provided in abundance.
Jacarandas were once planted as street trees in Los Angeles, along Stansbury Avenue in Sherman Oaks. Such trees are no longer planted in our parkways; they get “too big” and “cost too much” to maintain. But to walk down a street when blue haze trees are blooming is to realize that, once upon a time, there were, in fact, a few wise men who strode the corridors of city hall.
The jacaranda belongs to the Bignonia family, a group of plants with slightly bent trumpets for flowers. The catalpa tree is a hardy relative, and it also blooms at this time of the year. Catalpas are recognized by their huge heart-shaped leaves and long “Indian cigar” seed capsules. They, too, are raised easily from seed. Bignonia trumpet vines – in lavender, red, orange and yellow – will invariably grow well wherever jacarandas are found. Tip:
To keep a lawn green all summer, apply a thin (1/8 inch) layer of Nitrohumus or other well-rotted compost to the surface of the lawn once a month. Apply compost immediately after mowing and water in. Also, allow grass clippings to remain where they are mown.