They’re beautiful, but jacarandas can do harm, warns expert

2010-11-01 00:00

SOME people love them, others hate them, but if you live in Pietermaritzburg you cannot get away from them: jacaranda trees.

Some older people say: “Hooray, it’s jacaranda time again!” and have fond memories of cycling over carpets of purple flowers and revelling in the wonderful popping noise they make.

Several urban myths centre on jacarandas, including two specific to the local campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

According to local legend, any student who has not started studying by the time the Jacaranda flowers start to fall will fail.

On the other hand, having a flower fall directly on you is lucky and means that you will pass.

Another story, probably an old wives’ tale that older generations grew up with, is that the liquid from jacaranda flowers can give you pink eye. While some city residents are enjoying the city’s purple mantle, others want to take their chainsaws to the trees as Jacaranda mimosifolia is a “Category 3 declared invader” plant in terms of current legislation.

This means they may not be planted, propagated, sold or transported.

According to an expert on alien invasive vegetation, draft legislation will change the status of the trees, but it has not yet been finalised.

“Jacarandas are declared invasive for a reason, not just because ‘greenies’ want to be difficult,” she said. “

There are good reasons — backed up by research — as to why they are controlled and must be 30 metres from any watercourse and not in any riverine areas or flood- plains.

“Many people do not understand that if they are in the wrong place, they can do a lot of harm, including using up precious water and displacing indigenous plants.”

Jacarandas reportedly first struck root in South Africa in 1888, when two trees were planted at a school in Arcadia, Pretoria.

The first seed was imported by James Clarke and trees from the first batch of seedlings were planted in Koch Street, now Bosman Street, in Pretoria.

The trees are native to north-eastern Argentina where they grow mainly along rivers in warm to temperate sub-humid areas.

Besides its popularity as an ornamental tree, the jacaranda is an attractive light-coloured timber that can be used for cabinet making and office furniture.

• The Witness would like to hear from you if you have jacaranda stories, memories or photos you would like to share with Witness readers.

Contact Julia at 033 355 1111, or juliadd@witness.co.za.

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