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The Urban Jungle | So SoCal

Blue Streak

June 09, 1996|Jamie Wolf

This is the time of year when looking out over the city--from the crest of a hill or the roof of a parking structure or from any elevated stretch of freeway--you can see faraway, street-long stripes of powdery purplish-blue: The jacarandas are in blossom.

The trees, which are native to Brazil, are heartstopping on their own, their clouds of bloom like a sudden indrawn breath when seen against surrounding foliage, or viewed, as the "Western Garden Book" recommends that they be placed, against the sky. It is in rows, however, as street trees, that they really shine--forming their great billowing canopies and tunnels of blue overhead, with a pale, doubling haze of spent petals on the grass and pavement below (slippery enough to send the unwary skidding down a sidewalk).

Actually, in some ways, the jacaranda's attributes as a street tree are negligible. They are messy, shedding not only flowers but leaves, seed pods and twigs throughout the year. Their fern-like foliage, which emerges unpredictably, sometimes before, sometimes during, sometimes after flowering, offers little protection against the sun. And their bloom-time is altogether ephemeral, lasting three to four weeks at most. Nonetheless, there must have been a number of unexpectedly poetic souls at work in assorted Parks and Recreation departments of 30 years ago--there are about tk jacaranda mimosafolia in municipal use in the Greater Los Angeles area.

The blossoms of the jacaranda echo the lavender-blue of many other plants in bloom this time of year, almost all of them, coincidentally enough, with the same soft doubled "a" in their names: agapanthus and adenophora and ageratum and campanula and salvia clevelandii and scabiosa; all of them, even those whose flowers on first glance present a radically dissimilar appearance, composed of tissue paper-textured tubular florets of various hues and sizes. Is there an inherent subliminal harmony about this, and is that what resonates somehow?

Because throughout the city, when the jacarandas are in bloom, people take notice: They stop on the street, they take photographs, they mention it on the phone. To say every year, The jacarandas are especially beautiful this year, is a common phenomenon; this contradiction itself is a frequent subject for conversation among strangers.

Possibly it's the very briefness of their season that insinuates them into our consciousness. They embody, possibly, the transcendent nature of what is transitory and exquisite: Their time is so fleet and so intense it feels a lot like love.

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