Australian cities and towns are never more spectacular than when jacaranda trees burst into brilliant purple blooms.
By Simon Webster
If you’ve ever flown in to Sydney in October or November, you may have seen the city at its most spectacular. Not only does the harbour glisten, the sun glint off the Opera House, and the surf roll hypnotically onto the endless string of beaches, but the city is blanketed in swathes of a distinctive light-purple colour sometimes known as jacaranda blue.
In jacaranda season, Sydney isn’t the only place in Australia that is transformed by these dramatic blooms. You can visit the Jacaranda Festival in the country town of Grafton, in northern New South Wales or see jacarandas weave their magic in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne, too.
Jacarandas in bloom
Welcome to the jacaranda capital
The last weekend in October is the start of the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton (about 300 kilometres, or 190 miles, south of Brisbane). Locals and visitors have been celebrating the jacarandas that line Grafton’s broad avenues since 1934, making this the longest-running floral festival in Australia. And the locals do it in style, with nine days of street parades, parties, music, dragonboat racing and food and wine.
“Everyone gets very excited at jacaranda time,” says Sarah Templeton, a long-time festival volunteer and the 2007 Grafton Jacaranda Queen. “Everyone loves to let their hair down and celebrate how lucky we are to live in this part of the world.”
This year’s blossoms are as stunning as ever. “The trees are gorgeous – they never fail to deliver,” Templeton says. “They’re really deep in colour and right on time as usual.”
They love their jacarandas so much in Grafton that not only do they dedicate a nine-day festival to the trees, but everyone gets a half-day public holiday in the middle of it. On Jacaranda Thursday (2 November), everyone downs tools and goes a little bit crazy, painting the town purple with madcap entertainment as businesses put on comical shows in a bid to win the coveted Jacaranda Gold Cup.
Grafton’s Market Square, a park in the centre of town, featuring lots of jacaranda trees (naturally), is the headquarters for much of the Jacaranda Festival. This weekend (4-5 November), the festival culminates in the Feast food and wine festival and a street parade on the theme of – you guessed it – purple.
“But you really don’t have to go to any of the events if you don’t want to,” Templeton says. “Just have a picnic under a jacaranda tree in one of the beautiful parks on the river. The trees are the real highlight.”
See jacarandas in Sydney
The jacaranda is an iconic tree in Australia. It can be found across many areas of the continent, but is most famous for its dramatic effect on Sydney, which takes on a dreamlike quality in spring as blossoms blanket the trees and carpet the ground beneath them.
When a famous 88-year-old jacaranda tree collapsed at the University of Sydney in 2016, the event was seen as quite a catastrophe. So much so, the fallen tree was replaced by a genetically identical clone in July this year.
“Jacarandas are synonymous with Sydney and historically have been planted as an ornamental around harbour suburbs,” says Peter Butler, senior arborist at Centennial Parklands. Trees with a Sydney Harbour backdrop, such as an old specimen at the Royal Botanic Garden, can be spectacular.
You’ll also find jacarandas at historic Vaucluse House, or just take a stroll through suburbs such as Lavender Bay, Mosman, Cremorne or Camperdown. If you head down the famous shopping strip of Oxford Street, Paddington, you can combine jacaranda spotting with some retail therapy.
Jacarandas start to flower in early to mid-October in Sydney and generally bloom throughout November. “Every year I am amazed at how the lavender-coloured flowers jump out from the many shades of green all over Sydney,” Butler says. “Jacarandas are starting to look great now but will be at their blooming best in the coming weeks.”
Jacarandas across the land
Further north, in Brisbane, jacarandas bloom throughout October, which means we’re heading towards the end of the city’s jacaranda season, but the streets are still a riot of purple, so get out and see it while you can.
Head to the University of Queensland to see some spectacular blooms, and find out why Queenslanders call the jacaranda the “exam tree” and talk about “purple panic” – exam time for university students. It’s said that a flower falling on a student’s head is bad luck. For more jacarandas, take a stroll in New Farm Park, visit the Botanic Gardens or wander through Brisbane neighbourhoods such as Woolloongabba.
If you’re arriving in Australia too late for these blooms in Brisbane, Sydney or Grafton, fear not: there’s always Perth, where the jacarandas start to flower in November and peak in December. Try the suburbs north of the river such as Inglewood and Subiaco, or south of the river, where Applecross has spectacular jacaranda-lined avenues.
And then there’s Adelaide, where the season begins in early November. Try the suburbs south of the Botanic Gardens, such as Millswood, Goodwood and Unley. Or go to Melbourne, where the jacarandas don’t bloom until December. There are some nice trees at the University of Melbourne and in the Botanic Gardens.
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