I am in a little town in the very northern part of the North Island of New Zealand called Pukenui, which is fast becoming the avocado mecca of New Zealand.
My brother-in-law has bought a farm here and I am helping him plant this farm. The interesting part about being up in this part of the world is that I feel like I am back in South Africa because all along the roads are flowering South African bulbs and annuals.
I even went past a farm that grows cut flower Strelitzia reginae. All the different proteas do very well here, such as our national flower Protea cyneroides or the King Protea and all the Pincushions. There is not much native flora left, a problem in many countries, including South Africa. That is why it is so important for us to plant local: it prevents alien plants taking over our natural habitats.
One particular plant that is a problem here in New Zealand is a bulb from the Cape called Watsonia, which is out of control and now a huge pest.
This month throughout Durban you will see the magnificent blooms of Jacaranda mimosifolia, fondly known as Jacaranda. This South American native has become known as the panic tree because those who have not yet started studying for final exams will soon realise it may be too late. Its long-lasting pale indigo flowers are found in most sub-tropical regions that don’t experience frost. Even when young trees are damaged by a hard frost and suffer die back, they will often rebound from the roots and grow in a shrub-like, multi-stemmed form. A case in point is Pretoria, which can go below zero, but is known as Jacaranda City.
Jacarandas were first introduced to South Africa by Baron von Ludwig, in 1829, who brought plants into Cape Town. They have become very invasive in certain parts of South Africa, especially in the Highveld, and are thus banned from being planted. So far jacarandas are not invasive in Durban but it’s very difficult to find trees in nurseries around our city.
The tree grows up to 20m under ideal conditions. It belongs to a family of flowering trees and shrubs called Bignoniaceae, including Tabebuia, the African Sausage tree and the shrub Tecoma capensis or the Cape Honey Suckle. Its bark is thin and grey-brown when young but becomes flaky when it matures. The flowers are up to 5cm long, and are grouped in 30cm panicles. The flowers appear in spring and early summer, and last for up to two months. They are followed by woody seed pods, about 5cm in diameter, which contain numerous flat, winged seeds which are wind-dispersed. There is a white form which is fairly rare.
Even though Pretoria is known as Jacaranda City, and appears blue/purple in colour when seen from the nearby hills, jacaranda trees are no longer allowed to be planted in Pretoria. Be very careful when picking up flowers to smell because bees are often inside the flowers collecting pollen. The flowers on the ground can also be very slippery because it often rains in the flowering season, making walking on the carpets of flowers very dangerous. I know it is an exotic tree but it makes such a spectacular display in spring.
- This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation and botanical expeditions. If you have any questions, please email [email protected]