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As we weather the storms, our jacarandas bloom purple again

The blooms of a jacaranda tree dangle in the sunshine of a hot spring day with the city of Tampa in the background.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

The blooms of a jacaranda tree dangle in the sunshine of a hot spring day with the city of Tampa in the background.

A slick "the size of Rhode Island," the CNN talking heads kept saying — though Stephen Colbert, after leading his audience in a rousing round of post-spill "Drill, baby, drill!" contended this was actually a good thing, Rhode Island being a really small state and all.

Sigh.

The news from outside has not been good. We watch with mounting dread as workers try to stanch the flow of oil in our gulf waters, waiting to see how much damage may be done to our marine life, our sea grasses, our beaches, our tourist trade. Meanwhile, politicians pontificate on whether the future means drill or no drill, which is a little like asking if you would like another squirt of lighter fluid on the fire as your house burns down.

But here is something, a small something, a piece of good news from outside.

At least, and at last, our jacarandas are blooming, demanding to be seen.

Out of nowhere, the "friendly exotic" trees planted across the neighborhoods of St. Petersburg decades ago are bursting with spring flowers, all in that electric purple that puts a plumbago bush to shame.

Jacarandas are spreading their carpets of lavender flowers across the driveways of South Tampa and points north, east and west, and like most years, taking me by surprise.

Except for the years they don't, those drought years when trees conserve energy and wait for better times, giving us no showy show, no purple riot.

This year, Alan Mayberry was holding his breath.

He is one of my favorite people to talk to about trees, being city arborist for Dunedin and an unabashed fan of them. Our unusual cold snaps this winter had him holding out hope for the jacaranda.

He remembers all too well that harsh winter of '83, when the big jacaranda in his yard froze.

"Graveyard dead, right to the ground," he says. "Broke my heart," and how can you not appreciate a man whose heart can be broken by a beautiful tree?

Jacarandas, as it turns out, can be a litmus test for freeze damage. If they make out well, other trees tend to, too.

Our wet weather, all those good rains, may have been what saved us.

The trees — not just the jacarandas, either — are about a month late this year, Mayberry says. But here they are, demanding we take notice.

"They're just vibrant," he says.

"A good year for trees," he says.

So for now, at least, our jacarandas are blooming, a moment's worth of good news from outside.

As we weather the storms, our jacarandas bloom purple again 05/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 9:59pm]
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