If you have to go to Argentina to end an illicit affair, just don’t go when the jacarandas are in bloom. Why? When these trees blossom, the world changes. They fill the skyline with surreal clouds of purple-blue, and then, as the flowers fall, they cover streets with a silky lavender lingerie. In tropical and subtropical cities around the world, jacarandas form shady, fragrant canopies. The large, fast-growing, vase-shaped trees have gray bark and fringed, delicate, mimosa-like leaves (hence the species name). Once you’ve seen a jacaranda in bloom, you’ll never forget. Even if you should.
Common name: jacaranda tree, green ebony tree, fern tree
Botanical name: Jacaranda mimosifolia
Plant type: Deciduous tree
Zones: 9 to 15
Height: 25 to 50 feet
• Sun: Full sun to light shade.
• Soil: Average, well-drained. Tolerates most types of soil.
• Moisture: Medium. Drought-tolerant.
• Mulch: Three to six inches of organic mulch will help the soil retain moisture. Don’t mulch up against the tree trunk, as this encourages rot.
• Pruning: Prune to encourage a strong structure. It’s best to have one central trunk and no branches larger than half the diameter of the trunk.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed, grafting, or cutting.
Pests and diseases
• Mushroom root rot, leaf spots, and crown gall may be problems.
• Jacarandas are generally pest-free.
• Jacarandas make excellent street trees and shade trees. Be sure to give them enough room. They can grow wider than they are tall.
• The dramatic purple flowers also have a light fragrance, so plant the tree where you will catch the scent.
• Young trees, and trees grown in containers, often do not flower. In zones where jacaranda isn’t hardy, it’s sometimes grown in pots for its foliage.
• Don’t plant a jacaranda near a pool, because it drops too much litter. You’ll regularly find leaves, twigs, seeds, and flowers on the ground.
All in the family
• Another member of Bignoniaceae, or trumpet creeper family, is the catalpa tree. The northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) and the southern catalpa (C. bignonioides) are native to North America.
Where to buy
• TopTropicals Botanical Garden and Nursery, Punta Gorda, FL, 941-575-6987, www.toptropicals.com.
• Zone 9 Tropicals, Houston, TX, 713-863-0708, www.zone9tropicals.com.
• Flora Exotica, Quebec, Montreal, Canada, 514-747-7618, www.floraexotica.ca.
(Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)