It’s Jacaranda season in Sydney — signalling the time of year when our city begins the swing into summer and lets loose its inner show off. All around this harbour town the treeline is splashed with blossoming bursts of colour, and before too long the streets will be carpeted in thousands of impossibly blue petals.
The Jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia) is not native to Australia, but like all good things from not-so-distant places — Phar Lap, the Finn Brothers and Russell Crowe immediately spring to mind — we’ve claimed them as our own. The trees are actually of South American origin, and the word “Jacaranda” was first described to the English speaking world in the first edition of A supplement to Mr. Chambers’s Cyclopædia way back in 1753, more than thirty years before The First Fleet even arrived at Farm Cove. But claim them we have, and their spectacular blossoming in late October or early November each year heralds the coming of our splendid sub-tropical summer and, for many Sydneysiders, often triggers other memories as well.
One of the most famous Jacarandas in Sydney stands in the Quadrangle of Sydney University, my alma mater and my father’s as well. The tree was planted in 1927 by E G Waterhouse, a professor of comparative literature who also popularised the growing of camellias in many Sydney gardens. University folklore has it that if you haven’t started studying for your exams before the Jacaranda blooms in the corner of that incredible Gothic quad, then you’re doomed to fail.
My memories of the Sydney Uni Jacaranda are overwhelmingly positive: the cloisters beneath the tree were a beautiful place to sit and read, to soak up the atmosphere, or to feel the palpable sense of history that pervades those elegant sandstone buildings. There were days when we would sprawl beneath the blossoms before lectures, unperturbed by the “Keep Off The Grass” signs, secure in the belief that they couldn’t possibly apply to us. And if we were asked to move — well, it was probably time to get to tutorial anyway.
My other Jacaranda memories are much older. As a child, a giant Jacaranda tree grew outside my second-storey bedroom, and every November the blossom-laden branches outside my window transformed my room into a lilac bower. It was easy to believe in flower fairies looking out into that spreading canopy of mauve and blue. I was utterly heartbroken when the tree grew into the sewer line and had to be removed. They are, after all, spectacularly beautiful trees.
Nowadays, I get my Jacaranda fix wherever I can: there’s a gorgeous one at Marvel Girl’s school, and you see plenty just driving around the neighbourhood. I wish I could plant one in our own yard, but our narrow Northern Beaches block doesn’t have the space for such a specimen. And besides, I still have those special trees — those of my childhood memories and my student days — and they will stay with me forever.