Legend has it that if a student passes under a Jacaranda tree and one of the delicate, purple blossoms floats down onto the student’s head, that student is guaranteed to pass all exams. However, given that exams coincide with the end of Jacaranda season – there are so many blossoms falling on campus right now that we are all dancing in purple rain – virtually every student should pass.
From where I sat as I drafted this post (on paper, initially), there was absolutely no chance of any blossom of any kind falling on my head. That’s because I drafted this post in the underground hide near a small watering hole in Pilanesberg National Park. Safari stories and photos coming soon, but for now, let’s talk trees.
While the Jacaranda is not native to Southern Africa – it is originally from South America – you wouldn’t know it by walking around Pretoria in the springtime. Once each of the 70,000-plus Jacarandas popped purple, it appeared as though Pretoria had been the Jacaranda City forever.
Actually, Pretoria is fairly fortunate to still be the Jacaranda City at all. See, beautiful as they are, Jacaranda trees are also extreme water hogs. South Africa is a water-scarce country, particularly in the northern highveld, and many communities in provinces like Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng – including Johannesburg – were forced to remove the Jacarandas to conserve water. Pretoria (and most parts of Johannesburg, to be honest) was spared, and the city’s treasured trees today survive.
In the older sections of town, such as Brooklyn, Jacarandas line the streets of entire neighborhoods, their dark, twisty branches forming a blocks-long canopy. Early in the morning and again around 4:00pm, these streets become blanketed with a plush, purple carpet, as if the asphalt is not asphalt but a reflecting pool mirroring the arbor above.
For us, and for Jenny in particular, the Jacarandas express more than just the beauty of Mother Nature, they represent the memory of sister Jackie. The flowering, flourishing and fading of the similarly named Jacarandas is a bittersweet parallel to the life of Jenny’s late sister, whose favorite color was, yes, purple.
If Jackie was still with us, I think she would really like to see these photos of Pretoria’s Jacaranda trees. She’d just wonder why the heck we wanted to go all the way to South Africa to see them.