The next will be my fortieth California June. The Jacarandas blooming still sneak up on me.
I’ve been reading about the Jacarandas ever since I read this amazing piece of arboreal advocacy last year: Jacarandas are LA’s future. Alissa Walker is the urbanism editor of Curbed and I’m convinced she’s on to something here.
“Think purple, not palms,” Walker urges.
Hear her out:
“Enter the jacaranda: drought-tolerant, fast-growing, wildlife-friendly, shade-providing, sidewalk-protecting. There are many LA trees that check all those boxes: sycamores are nice; oaks are native, and planting locals should be our priority, of course. But there are few trees that do all those things—and also provide such stunning, exotic, instantly Instagrammable enchantment.
“What if LA became known for its leafy, well-shaded sidewalks instead of its palm-lined drives?
“I’m not saying we need to Johnny Appleseed the city with Jacaranda mimosifolia seeds. Nor should we line entire streets with one species—that’s not great for biodiversity. But wouldn’t it be incredible to plant enough of them all over the city, in great enough densities, for people to make pilgrimages here just to see them—and at the same time, to stroll along our newly reimagined streets? What if LA became known for its leafy, well-shaded sidewalks instead of its palm-lined drives?
“Think about the trees on your street—and not just the ones that bloom violet once per year. In 50 years, most of the palms that you see today will be dead. Yet the trees we plant today will be thriving. When we’re thinking about our city’s forested future, we need to think green—and we can also think purple.”
She’s been thinking about it for a long time. In 2009, she wrote this delightful piece — Purple Haze:
“Right around Memorial Day, LA emits this otherworldly purple glow. The jacarandas bloom and give way to June Gloom, I thought as I was walking home yesterday, spotting sprays of lavender splotched randomly like graffiti tagging the hillsides. It’s LA’s purple rain, I laughed (yes, this is how I entertain myself while walking around town). But wait, I thought, I wrote all this about jacarandas already, didn’t I?”
She had. In 2005: “In 2005. A .Mac page! How quaint!” Do read the entire thing!
“For about three weeks in spring, they explode in hot lilac trumpets.”
“You’ll never notice them the rest of the year.”
“If one falls on your head, it is said to be good luck.”
“They make entire blocks feel like walking on rubber.”
“And yards look like they never cleaned up after a surprise party.”
Hands down, the best writing about LA’s Jacarandas is here in The Story Behind Los Angeles’ Beautiful, Ephemeral Jacaranda Blooms by Julia Wick. Wicks wrote in LAist:
“Jacaranda season may be brief, but for a short burst of time all of Los Angeles seems to be in purple-blue bloom.
“Ordinary trees explode in a riotous violet haze. Palm Drive becomes a tunnel; North Whittier a lavender canopy. Stansbury Street is engulfed. The Santa Monica stretch of jacaranda trees from Wilshire to Colorado on 3rd is a designated city landmark, and for good reason.”
“In 1944, a scholar visiting from Chicago described ‘the immense clusters of violet blue flowers’ in a scientific journal, explaining that an illustration of a Jacaranda mimosifolia flower on the facing page was ‘made from specimens collected in the environs of Los Angeles where this tree is widely grown for its beauty.’
“Have you ever heard a more L.A. thing? One can only imagine what those weary midwesterners must have thought of us, we Californians, who grew things just for their beauty. Vladimir Nabokov is said to have claimed that he could have lived in Los Angeles for the jacaranda trees alone.
“There are no seasons here, they say, no way to separate the days. How does one calibrate time when history is liquid and seemingly lived in the ageless present? Somewhere, likely in the basement of some talent agency, there must be a pile of Faustian pacts stacked a mile high.
“’The terrible thing about LA,’ Orson Welles once said, ‘is that you sit down, you’re 25, and when you get up you’re 62.’
“In a city of eternal sunshine, what could be more seductive than impermanence? Our eyes can adjust to all the evergreen beauty Los Angeles has to offer; stay here long enough and you’ll take it all in without even blinking. But the jacaranda trees?
“Blink and you’ll miss them. In fact—look up! —they’re already almost gone.
“As Raymond Chandler, a master of not just sunshine and noir, but also the perfect simile, put it in an early story, ‘Beautiful hands are as rare as jacaranda trees in bloom, in a city where pretty faces are as common as runs in dollar stockings.’
“’It’s the kind of tree you feel nostalgic for even when you’re standing right in front of it,’ a San Diego horticulturist wrote.
“Their purple pageantry is the closest thing we have to seasons, to any season at all. They dazzle us and then disappear.
“And, as we look up at the space that was briefly purple and is now just sky, we Angelenos feel the rarest thing of all: time passing.”
Many who love the Jacarandas have an anecdote, a memory from childhood, some a specific Los Angeles moment.
“We had a Jacaranda tree in our back yard, just outside the back door. My mom built an L-shaped sandbox under the tree so she could see my little brothers as they played outside. Little did she know that this amazingly violet-blue tree would shed its blooms and leave a sticky residue everywhere. (I think she discovered the residue when my brothers tracked it and the flowers onto the playroom floor after playtime.) Yuck!
“Despite the mess she was always awed and excited to see the blooms and her feelings became mine over the years. I now drive to work down a street filled with purple blooms and smile as I remember my childhood and think of the coming summer.”
Read this descriptive gorgeousness from Erica Zora Wrightson, Best Jacaranda Stroll: Jacaranda trees at Hope & Flower:
“L.A. is the cruelest town,” musician Loudon Wainwright III has said. “You’re in a car all the time and the weather is kind of unrelenting. That blue, California weather.” To live in Los Angeles is to live in ignorance of snow — the experience of white powder descending on a city, urbanity reinterpreted as pianissimo, buried under verses of sparkling ice. Here, the notion of cold is relative; foggy mornings, a brisk October wind, rain in November. In April, when the jacaranda trees bloom like fierce violet fires, the city lets down its hair: Dainty blossoms paint a second draft of the city, which makes you wonder if we’ve been living in black-and-white. The juncture of Hope and Flower — with all the city’s music on its back, running like a scoliotic spine behind The Mark Taper Forum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Disney Hall — is lined with jacarandas. When in bloom, petals a shade of purple that only recurs in children’s clothing and certain pastel-colored candies, they transform the street into a study of tree figure and form, a Hockney painting realized in the middle of downtown L.A.”
Brittany Martin writes a beautiful history ~ The History of Those Beautiful Jacaranda Trees in Bloom Around L.A.
Steven Rowley describes the jacaranda tree days in LA in his touching novel Lily and the Octopus (the dog dies!):
“There are times when Los Angeles is the most magical city on Earth. When the Santa Ana winds sweep through and the air is warm and so, so clear. When the jacaranda trees bloom in the most brilliant lilac violet. When the ocean sparkles on a warm February day and you’re pushing fine grains of sand through your bare toes while the rest of the country is hunkered down under blankets slurping soup. But other times, like when the jacaranda trees drop their blossoms in an eerie purple rain, Los Angeles feels like only a half-formed dream. Like perhaps the city was founded as a strip mall in the early 1970s and has no real reason to exist. An afterthought from the designer of some other, better city. A playground made only for attractive people to eat expensive salads.”
In 1995, back when the LA Times had a section called “Home,” Jon D. Markman wrote Purple Reigns as Jacaranda Trees Blossom Across the Southland: The harbingers of hot weather show their lavender flowers for just six weeks. And there is that messy little problem about the sap. answering this among other questions:
“What’s with the mist of sap that spews off jacaranda flowers and slimes my car?”
“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that sticky stuff isn’t nectar or sap. It’s aphid waste. According to Lofgren, jacarandas are a favorite luncheon spot for millions of hungry aphids. They have to suck a lot of useless carbohydrates out of the flower nectar to get enough protein to keep their little brains sparking, and excrete whatever they don’t need through a ‘tiny spigot in their gut,’ Lofgren said.”
And here’s the LA Times with a wonderfully informative Jacaranda graphic Jacarandas blooming early: A look at L.A.’s cherry blossoms. Did you know that there are twenty thousand Jacaranda trees in Los Angeles? And 1654 in Pasadena (as of 2015)? That they live 80 – 100 years? (I did not.)
David Hochman gushes about our Jacarandas in this Forbes piece listing his version of the Best Places To See Jacarandas In Bloom In Los Angeles. He includes a bit of history:
“One woman gets credit for the Dr. Seuss-like trees that herald the summer months to come. Katherine Olivia ‘Kate’ Sessions, a horticulturist best known as the landscape architect of San Diego’s Balboa Park, brought jacarandas to Los Angeles in the early part of the 20th century. Today, they are as much a part of the L.A. landscape as boba shops and The Kardashians. But they only last six weeks so get out there now.
“It’s easy to find them, especially around the 7 p.m. golden hour when the yellow sun and purple flowers combine to make gorgeous Lakers colors. Drive anywhere where there’s a hill above trees and you’ll see their otherworldly glow. Here are a few standout viewing spots:”
- The corner of Hope and Flower Streets in downtown
- Ayres Avenue in Westwood
- The corner of Woods and Wilshire in Old Town Fullerton
- Miracle Mile
And Markman’s 1995 sighting streets:
- Stansbury Street or Dixie Canyon Avenue near Valley Vista Boulevard in Sherman Oaks
- Index Street in Granada Hills
- Downtown, a handsome row of jacks frames the County Hall of Administration
- In Beverly Hills, famous for its jacaranda-lined avenues, Whittier Street is a standout
There are many, many other great spots to see the Jacarandas. I’ve been jotting down my favorite spots and, having asked my FB friends for their suggestions, I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list:
- Paloma Street just east of Allen Avenue in Pasadena
- Del Mar Boulevard in Pasadena
- 9300 block of Gothic Avenue in North Hills
- The older residential streets in Hollywood
- Los Robles Avenue in San Marino
- Zonal Ave near the old LA general hospital
- Glendale Avenue in Glendale
- Glenoaks & Norton in Sun Valley
- Victory Blvd & No. Hollywood Way, Burbank
- Sixth Street just west of Crescent Heights
- Rosecrans and Horst in Norwalk
- Franklin Ave by the Shakespeare Bridge
- La Cuarta Street in Whittier – Yvette adds: “the mature jacaranda canopy is lush, a beautiful drive near Michigan Park”
Niki Tennant found this fun list of streets lined with Jacarandas:
- Jacaranda St Fullerton
- Santa Ana is full of streets with jacarandas. The city turns purple! They’ll be blooming in the next few weeks!!
- Downey Blvd between Del Amo and Candlewood, Lakewood
- Myrtle Street in Santa Ana
- Parts of Yale loop in Irvine
- Irvine Along University Dr., between Harvard and Culver specifically
- Rose Park neighborhood in Long Beach
- off of Valencia Ave. in Tustin on the old Tustin Marine Base
- Lakewood, like half the city. Slight exaggeration but…
Check out these gorgeous Long Beach Jacarandas! Thanks for this too, Niki!
A Jacaranda tree stands tall, and sways as if to say,
Look! At this magnificence, I’m wearing blue today.
forgive the way I shout aloud, my lack of modesty,
but nowhere in this troubled world is finery like me.
Light rays slide between each leaf, to settle on the tips
to lightly kiss your face with a hundred million tiny lips.
You only have to lift your eyes to greet the filtered sun
a sight I guarantee will warm the heart of everyone.
Though very tall, my leaf is small, its form is one of fern,
large panicles of bluebells swell to trumpet unconcern.
A Bee collecting nectar from an ample deep white throat,
takes flight to join its family, and of its feast to gloat.
Look up to see each fern like leaf, floating up on high,
like footprints of a centipede that stroll across the sky
See how far my branches reach, admire their greenery,
I am beautiful and strong, I am the Jacaranda tree.
Everyone has an opinion. No one is indifferent.
Thanks to all who shared their thoughts:
Randy Economy: There is a couple of streets in a neighborhood in Norwalk… Rosecrans and Horst to be exact… And they have literally dozens of massive jacarandas that are probably between 75 and 100 years old. They stretch from one side of the street to the other and are absolutely magnificent in October of each year I’m a huge fan of them even though they are considered to be a dirty tree…
Jim Ruymen: Since arriving in 1977, I always look forward to the Jacaranda season.
Cindy Oltman Grayson: 💜💜Love them! They keep me upbeat in the grey months! 💜💜
Guillermina Alvarez: My honey and I LOOOVE jacarandas!!!
Dolores Spears: We have them in our neighborhood, they are beautiful but messy.
Liz Greenwood: I love them. They make a horrible mess. They smell like pee. I love them.
Marcos Castañeda: I have them in Panorama City and while there is a sticky flower problem, the soothing lavender is worth it. Got a car cover at the time!
Bill Wolfe: I love them very much. For me, they’re one of the defining features of Los Angeles. I even included a reference to them in one of my songs about the city. So — definitely a fan.
Jennifer J Chatfield: I love them, and I’m always surprised by the sudden bloom. They are messy, and I have one growing over my balcony.
Cheryl Parisi: I am with Michelle. Love Love Love them. Glorious!
Jeff Rogers: Love them. Look forward to them every year. When I worked at the Jewish Federation (for 16 years) each Spring I anticipated driving through corridors of them on Sixth Street just west of Crescent Heights on the way to 6505 Wiltshire, for glorious weeks.
Joe Kahraman: Love them. Franklin Ave by Shakespeare bridge
Erik Sanjurjo: Luv luv luv but only appropriate for residential street due to slip and falls.
Maria Manna-McCready: We had one at our first house. Beautiful trees!
Michelle Buehler: I love love love love love them. Did I tell you how much I love them?
Maura Kealey: when I lived briefly in LA, jacarandas were the most magic thing I found, just like the L-Taraval Streetcar was in the Sunset District SF
Yvette Martinez shared this perfect purple photo on the Friday of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, writing:
The jacarandas have bloomed in my neighborhood and I’m thinking about Anthony, Kate, Prince and purple rain, purple rain…💜