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Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Color Coordinated Jackarandas and Agapanthus©

By Vardah Littman

Starting around Iyar time, some totally green-leafed trees suddenly start producing great bunches of bell-like lavender flowers. These are Jacaranda trees, referred to in Hebrew as Sigalit. Originating in Brazil, Jacarandas were introduced into Israel over 50 years ago and are now found in cities all over the Land. In neighborhoods lucky enough to have jacarandas as street trees, the two to three month of bloom creates an exquisite purple haze across the horizon.

To give you an idea of the beauty of the Jackaranda in one phrase, I would describe it as “breath-taking.” Seeing this splendid tree in full bloom makes you appreciate its loveliness. It has a slender trunk, delicate leaves, and literally thousands of bell-shaped mauve and lilac flowers blossoms hanging from sculptured branches that reach for the sky.

There are about 50 different species of jacarandas. The Blue Jacaranda that we know (Jacaranda Mimosifolia) is the most widespread of those species This handsome Jacaranda is about 5 to 30 meters in height with slender and slightly wavy zigzag light reddish-brown branches. They can be pruned easily to make a canopy that provides just the right amount of dappled shade. The thin, grey-brown bark is smooth when the sapling is young. As the tree develops, fine scales cover it. The feathery leaves resemble ferns which accounts for the fact that many people call it “Fern Tree.”

In the spring and early summer the Jacaranda produces clusters of lilac and purple trumpet-shaped flowers that have a hint of fragrance and can be up to five cm long. The flowers produce oval flattened and woody seed pods measuring about 2  inches across. They harden and split, popping open to release tiny, winged seeds. Both seed pods and the countless flute-like flowers of the Jacaranda tend to fall and lay littered on the ground. Being somewhat sticky, the flowers attach themselves to the bottom of shoes and get carried around.

Sometimes, another minor round of flowering occurs in Chesvan or Kislev, In the winter the leaves turn yellow and brown, and the tree hangs onto those leaves throughout the winter, waiting until spring to let go.

The Jacaranda enjoys wel- drained soil, sunny locations, and ample watering. Although it can tolerate drought, it prefers tropical and sub-tropical climates. Yet we see it grows well in Jerusalem even thought the winters are cold as it can survive brief spells of frost and freezing temperatures  (-7° C/ 20° F). Over time, the tree becomes even more cold resistant.

With its profuse flowers and sheltering branches, Jacaranda can be grown as street trees, or in landscapes and lawns. Grown in large pots, it can be an ornamental plant for container gardening. It can also be turned into a nicely molded bonsai tree.
Although the Jacaranda tree is clearly loved and valued for its beauty, the tree also has other important and interesting uses. The straight-grained, relatively soft, and knot-free wood has a pleasant scent. It dries without difficulty and is often used in its green or wet state for woodturning (a form of woodworking that is used to create wooden objects on a lath) and bowl carving. It is easy to work and finish for carpentry, and in Argentina and Brazil it's known as green ebony and used to build furniture.
Because of the handsome finish and beautiful ingrained streaks that polished Jacaranda timber produces, it is used in crafting fine pianos in Egypt. In Brazil Jacaranda wood is used in constructing the body of acoustic guitars. The Chinese use the leaves to make a distinctive purple dye. The water extracts of Jacaranda has medicinal value and is antimicrobial. All parts of the tree, if ingested, are said to have a poisonous effect.
Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, is home to so many jacarandas that it's poetically known as Jacaranda City or Jakarandastad in Afrikaans. The huge number of the trees turns the city blue when they flower in the spring. Besides here in Eretz Yisrael, the trees bloom spectacularly in Mexico, Singapore, India, and even amid harsh and dry conditions in Nairobi.
Jacaranda can be propagated from grafting, cuttings, or seeds. Plants grown from seeds may take a long time to bloom. As the Jacaranda is very resistant to pests and diseases, there are no pests of note that attack this tree.
Amazing to note that at the exact same time the Jacaranda flowers are blooming high up on their tree perch, you can find the exact same colors, low on the ground in the form of the lavender agapanthus (Lily of the Nile). These bold round balls of bell-like flowers often called African lilies, originate in South Africa. Their long pointed 60 cm (24 in) strap-like leaves are topped with globes of intensely bluish colored flowers on long dark green stems which are 30-40cm high. They are surprisingly low maintenance and will survive the winter outdoors.

There are many varieties of agapanthus. The classic agapanthus has azure blue flowers with a prominent darker stripe in the middle. It’s name comes from the Greek agape (meaning” love”) and anthos (meaning “flower). Agapanthus means “flower of love,” and their color, purple is what was considered in ancient times the color of kings. At this time of year, for only a few weeks, agapanthus can be bought in flower stores. I always try to buy them "L’Koved Shabbos Kodesh" to show my love of the Holy Shabbos Malka.

1 comment:

  1. I live on the beautiful island of Jersey, in the English Channel, 14 miles north of France.

    We may be too far north for jacaranda trees but ברוך השם we are blessed with thousands of agapanthus plants, which are to be found in almost everybody's garden.

    Should anyone ever be tempted to visit Jersey we have a thriving shul in the village of St Brelade, not far from the "capital" St Helier. I promise you that you will be very welcome!