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Lavender aloft

The dazzle of jacarandas, which dot our landscape with purple parasols each spring, is worth the hassle of tidying up after the show.

By YVONNE SWANSON, Special to the Times
Published May 12, 2007

The dazzle of jacarandas is worth the hassle of tidying up after the show.

Sometimes beauty comes at a price. The jacaranda tree is the perfect example. Almost too lovely for its own good, the exotic ornamental tree leaves a real mess on the ground after its explosion of lavender-blue blossoms withers and falls from its bare branches. Everyone loves jacaranda in its full-bloom glory, but after the weeks-long show, admirers are few to be found.

It just doesn't seem fair. So much beauty. So much cleanup. Is that why jacaranda has fallen from favor? When was the last time you saw one for sale at the garden center?

Forty years ago that wasn't the case. The easy-to-grow Brazilian native was planted throughout the area and the name "jacaranda" became popular with motels, restaurants and the like. The Tampa Bay area, and particularly St. Petersburg, was known for the spectacular jacaranda trees along streets and highways.

"It wouldn't be spring without jacaranda trees, " says Andy Wilson, a horticulturist at the Pinellas County Extension Service in Largo. People love them - especially when they're growing in someone else's yard and not their own, he notes. "A big issue for people is dropping of the blooms. Like any other tree, (jacaranda) has pluses and minuses."

It's beautiful, but . . .

On the positive side, jacaranda is an easy-to-grow, hardy tree that withstands drought, resists pests and disease and tolerates poor soil, whether it's sand, loam, clay, slightly alkaline or acidic. The only conditions it doesn't like are poorly drained soil and salt. Jacaranda is a fast grower, shooting up several feet each year. It produces its million-dollar show of exotic trumpet-shaped blossoms each spring and sometimes repeats blooming during the summer after its delicate, wispy light-green leaves have emerged.

On the down side, the wood of the jacaranda tends to be brittle, and branches can split or break during storms, particularly if the tree hasn't been pruned. Jacaranda should be pruned to one dominant trunk with branches less than half the diameter of the trunk.

Then, there are those fallen blossoms, like a carpet of lilac confetti scattered over the lawn, sidewalk, driveway, rooftop and porch. You can't do much about them, except clean them up with a rake or leaf blower that has a vacuum feature. On the bright side, legend has it that if a jacaranda blossom falls on your head, you'll be blessed with good luck.

A canopy of your own

Sometimes you'll find a grafted jacaranda tree at the nursery (recently I found two at Willow Tree Nursery in St. Petersburg). You can ask the store manager to order one for you or, if you're the patient type, you can start your own jacaranda tree from seed. When the round brown seed pods drop from an established tree in the fall, simply remove the seed, plant in a soil-filled container, place in a partly sunny location and keep moist to germinate. Once the plant is established, you can transplant it into the yard in a location with full sun. But it can be years before a seedling plant produces blooms.

Feed jacaranda with a 12-6-8 (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium ratio) fertilizer twice a year, recommends Lynnae Dehoff, a saleswoman with Southeast Growers, a wholesale tropical grower in Wellington. The company grows several varieties of jacaranda, including the most popular Jacaranda mimosifolia, which can grow 40 feet tall and 60 feet wide, and Jacaranda jasminoides, which grows about half as large.

Jacaranda doesn't tolerate freezing temperatures, but an established tree can survive temperatures as low as the mid 20s without significant wood damage. The last major freeze in the area occurred almost 20 years ago, in 1989.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.



Purple rain

Scientific name: Jacaranda mimosifolia

Common name: Blue jacaranda, black poui, fern tree

Native to: South America. The blue jacaranda has been cultivated in almost every part of the world where there is no risk of frost.

What it likes: Full sun, moderate water. Will grow in poor soil. This is not a salt-tolerant plant.

Growth: As much as 40 feet tall and 60 feet wide.

Blooms: For eight weeks in spring, with drifts of purple blossoms.

Fun to know: In the TV series Gidget, star Sally Field was distraught because the city planned to cut down the jacaranda trees that lined her street. Gidget fought city hall and won.

People in Australia sing a Christmas song about jacaranda, where the trees bloom in their summer (winter here in the northern hemisphere). As the song explains, "When the bloom of the jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near."



[Last modified May 11, 2007, 13:14:02]

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