Weather in autumn – When Namibia reveals her softer sideAugust 17, 2012
Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch – Room with a View over the KalahariAugust 17, 2012
by Amy Schoeman
What is an “exotic” species such as the jacaranda doing featured as a Nature Note when most people know that jacarandas are native to the American tropics and not to Namibia or even Southern Africa?
The justification is that these large, showy trees with their magnificent purple flowers have become so ubiquitous in Southern Africa, especially in the cities – that they have more or less become naturalised. Back in the 1940s one of South Africa’s best-loved writers, Herman Charles Bosman, in his novel Jacaranda in the Night (published in 1947), describes how the changes that take place in the seasons affect the inhabitants (of Kalvyn) “who are not far removed from the soil… there is a sullen conforming on the part of the people to those dark tides at whose flow the jacarandas purple overhead and at whose ebb the yellowed fields fall silent.”
What is more, the jacaranda is described in two of Southern Africa’s most authoritative books on trees – Trees of Southern Africa by Keith Coates Palgrave and the more recent Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa by Braam van Wyk & Piet van Wyk. While several jacaranda species are native to the American tropics, the one that grows so well in Southern Africa is the Jacaranda mimosifolia, described as a deciduous or semi-deciduous tree with a rounded spreading crown and yellowish autumn colours. Its bell-shaped flowers grow in loose terminal pinnacles and usually appear before the new leaves. Their colours vary from mauve-blue and lilac to purple and occasionally white, and make a spectacular show when in full bloom.
It is this latter aspect that prompted this Nature Note, since it is in October when these trees are at their most impressive in Windhoek. As a harbinger of summer the exuberant purple blooms bring hope to residents at a time of year when the atmosphere in Windhoek is bleak, hot and dry, and most other trees are devoid of greenery and gasping for rain. However long one has lived in the capital and seen the jacarandas in full bloom, it is still a magnificent and heart-warming sight, especially when the relentless October winds start blowing, creating brilliant carpets of purple flowers beneath the trees, on lawns and along the city’s pavements.
Moreover, legend has it that a version of this tree with white blossoms was first cultivated in Windhoek, so in a sense it is indigenous. The story goes that the originator of the white jacaranda was the official gardener at the Tintenpalast gardens, and that he propagated the first trees with white blooms in the bottom section of today’s Government Building gardens, directly below the bowling green. From here, alternated with purple-blossomed trees, they were propagated in the shady avenue leading towards the Tintenpalast from the Christuskirche circle. According to a spokesperson at the National Botanical Research Institute, the white jacaranda is a fluke, a single-gene mutation that was developed, and is basically an albino version of the purple jacaranda.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘03/ Jan ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.