Indeed, if you wander around the island at this time of the year, at elevation over 400m (1300 feet) your eye will be inevitably caught by large purple masses carried by trees either along roadsides, town streets, private and public gardens. Surprisingly enough they are not found in the wild although they do produce large quantities of seeds.
|Jacaranda trees along a main road||Blooming tree with stormy sky||Courtesy of Olivier Dugenet|
Jacaranda mimosifolia (synonyms are Jacaranda acutifolia and J.ovalifolia) belongs to the Bignonaceae family (trumpet creeper family) which hosts some 120 different genius divided in 600 to 800 species. In the Mascareignes archipelago we have but one endemic species; Colea colei, note that the Colea genius is mostly found in Madagascar. The genera Jacaranda itself numbers 49 to 50 different species depending on the authors. They are mostly tropical, trees, shrubs or climbers and the largest number comes from Latin America, trees are usually deciduous. The name "jacaranda," which was given by the French botanist Jussieu in 1818 is the name used by Tupi Brazilian tribes. Although of South American origin it has been chosen by South Africa as its national tree and largely grown in Johannesburg and Pretoria which has even been given the name of "Jacaranda City." When visiting Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar) in the right season, one cannot resist stopping at the lake Anosy close to the city center; the lake is circled by huge jacaranda trees and the flowers reflect in the water, producing a unique effect.
|Blue trumpet flowers||Slightly darker||Such a profusion!|
It is one of the most commonly grown ornamental tropical trees and can be admired in the U.S., Central America, Africa, Australia, southern France and the Mediterranean. It requires a dry season for correct blooming so will not be that effective if artificial watering is maintained all year round and will not do well in equatorial conditions. Although of tropical origin it can withstand temperature down to -7°C (19°F) for short periods and only for mature, well-established trees. It has handsome and delicate foliage made of bipinnate leaves (divided twice) which explains why it is known as "fern tree." Other names, such as "blue flame of the forest" or "flamboyan azul" refers to its seeming resemblance to Delonix regia both in shape and stunning mass flowering (sometimes called "big bang") and even more spectacular as they happen just before the onset of new leaves. The flowers are classical of the Bignonaceae family: trumpet shaped and vary in color from deep purple to pale blue depending on the soil they grow in, some Jacaranda species produce pink or white flowers. 'Oyster tree' name points at the aspect of the fruits which remind of oysters, they are actually woody capsules which will split in two parts and let the winged seeds fly in the air. Hard enough, those fruits can be painted or left with natural look and used for decoration.
|A wooden oyster?||No, a ripe jacaranda fruit||Full of winged seed!|
Reaching 15 to 25 m high (45 to 75 feet) it really makes an eye catching mass when in full bloom and can also display a rather ornamental shape if given enough space to grow. It is also very effective when planted in rows along roads and streets, the leaves fall during the dry season and set back on when the scorching summer sun starts shining. Even the bark is decorative, it bears nice grey colors, smooth on branches and stems it becomes cracked on the trunk. The wood is quite soft hence easy to prune, well adapted to woodturning and carpentry and can be used to make beautiful bowls, it was much appreciated and used by Portuguese people when they discovered Brazil. This wood contains yellow dye (jacarandine and exoecarine). Anti-bacterial and anti-septic compounds have been found in the leaves and are sometimes used in Brazil to fight syphilis.
|Young bark||Bipinnate leaves||Older bark|
So, if you are lucky enough to live under a suitable climate, my advice is to plant a jacaranda tree and enjoy the flowering. It only takes ten to twelve years between sowing and blooming, and most gardeners have large capacities for patience...