An Appreciation of the Jacaranda, Which Each Spring Shrouds the Valley in a Magnificent Canopy of Blue and Purple

The purple empress.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Rohina Hoffman
  • Illustrated by
    Yuiko Sugino

I walk out my front door in Sherman Oaks through time and space to 17th-century Japan. I am with Basho, inspired to create a haibun as I travel down my street during the months of May and June. The air is sweet but not overpowering, and the sky is a velvet canopy of purple enchantment. Jacarandas are calling to me from all sides. With some at least 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide, the trees are stately. I gaze down my street and it is as if they are putting on a show, their own silent parade. If you get caught in a jacaranda rainstorm, consider yourself fortunate. Some say it is good luck to have the flowers fall on your head. 

There are 49 species, but it is the mimosifolia, blue jacaranda, that is seen throughout LA. It blooms in the spring and then, once in a while, there is a double bloom. It will surprise you, take you off guard and burst again just after summer’s end. This second bloom is short and not as robust. It often goes unnoticed except by those patiently waiting and watching.

Like so many of us in LA, jacarandas are not native to the Southland. They are found in tropical and subtropical parts of South America, as well as Mexico and Central America. Kate Sessions, an American botanist, horticulturist and landscape architect, is credited with importing its seeds to this region in 1892, and the jacaranda became popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

I wait all year for the jacaranda bloom. It marks time passing, our seasons, and I never tire of it, even after 20 years of being here. I mingle with the visitors on my street, some toting cameras and marveling at the heliotropic display. One day perhaps she will have her own star on the Walk of Fame. Surely she deserves it.

And then, just like that, the flowers are gone. It is hard to pinpoint the last time you saw the jacaranda bloom. Like so many things, we are primed to attend to our firsts. We’re not in tune with our lasts. We take for granted that they will be there and then suddenly they are not. When exactly did this change take place? Was it yesterday? The day before? All we know is that now the street is strewn with purple markings, crushed petals, remnants of their formal glory like confetti left over from a party. Some find the sticky debris they leave behind messy and unpleasant; I find it simply a reminder of what it is like to live here.

Several years ago, when my husband and I entertained the thought of leaving LA, I set about to photograph all the things I would miss. The first picture I took was of the jacaranda. We never left, and I never had to finish my album project. Only one photo graces the album—the sole majestic purple empress.

Rohina Hoffman is a freelance writer and fine art photographer living in Sherman Oaks with her husband, children and two golden retrievers.