I don’t think I’ll ever forget my astonishment the first time I saw them. It was the shock of seeing something that seemed unnatural.
Throughout my childhood in North America I had only ever seen trees with green leaves or the vibrant red, orange and yellows of autumn, followed by brown as the leaves began to drop off the trees. Movies, pictures, and books had only ever confirmed that trees had green leaves, or autumn colours if they were deciduous.
But, as I stared out the bus window to my right, I noticed two large trees with blackish trunks standing proudly across the street in front of the school’s light brick façade, each with a full crown of vibrant bluish purple. No green or shades of orange to be seen.
I blinked and rubbed my eyes. I had fallen asleep on the bus, so perhaps I was still groggy and seeing things.
As the bus pulled away from the stop, I craned my neck then turned in my seat to stare at them as we moved away. No, there were definitely trees with nothing but purple leaves.
No one else on the bus seemed to notice and the pedestrians on the street seemed undisturbed by their presence.
I rang my boyfriend.
“Hi, are you okay?” he asked since I usually didn’t call during the day.
“What are the purple trees?”
“What?” he sounded perplexed.
“What are the purple trees? I’m on Grote street. They’re in front of the school.”
“I don’t know any purple trees,” he said after a pause.
“Oh. I swear the leaves are purple.”
“Ok, but I’m not sure which ones you are talking about.”
Later that night, he told me that driving around during the day he realised I was talking about jacaranda trees. He’d never really noticed them that much because they bloomed every spring and had done his entire life. But it was my first spring in Adelaide; I had never seen them before.
A jacaranda tree in full bloom is an impressive sight; a street of them is spectacular. There are several streets in Adelaide that are covered by a magnificent purple shade every spring. The flowers are small, long and trumpet shaped and bloom on the trees in clumps. As the weather starts to warm, the flowers drop, making way for fern-like green leaves and it looks like the tree’s shadow has turned purple.
I have since learned that jacarandas are originally from South America and even grow in parts of the United States. I had never happened to visit those places in the spring, so if I had seen a jacaranda then I wouldn’t had known they had purple flowers. These days, Instagram is full of their images each spring bloom, so they probably don’t come as a shock to many new arrivals. I’m sort of glad they took me by surprise, because now seeing them makes me smile.
These days, my husband and I both notice the jacarandas each spring and I look forward to seeing them bloom; but, in our house, they are just called the purple trees.