Are Tampa Bay’s glorious jacaranda trees, with their burst of bold purple blooms that herald spring, fizzling like fireworks on a rainy Fourth of July?
Mike Jefferis, administrator of leisure services including parks and recreation for the city of St. Petersburg, says a jacaranda he admires in his neighborhood this year looks “a little sparse.”
“Usually we’re expecting a bloom around this time,” said Brian Knox, senior forester examiner with the city of Tampa planning department. “We don’t have it.”
The jacaranda trees that dot the local landscape, many of them planted in the 1960s, are part of the ebb and flow of life in the Tampa Bay area. Long before The Weather Channel, local anglers are said to have looked to a jacaranda’s bloom to tell them when it was time to go for kingfish. The Tampa Bay Times once asked readers to name their favorite jacaranda, and they did.
“They’re absolutely gorgeous,” said Jefferis, a St. Petersburg native who says his grandmother’s jacaranda was “the best climbing tree ever” when he was a kid.
“They’re just a fantastic tree. They help delineate our neighborhoods,” he said. “Everybody’s very proud of them.”
Like a lot of Sunshine State residents, jacarandas, which stretch from Central Florida down to the Keys, are not native.
“You’ll see a whole block as you’re driving down the road” when they’re in bloom, Jefferis said. “It’s like smoke.”
So, is the milder display noticed in some corners of Tampa Bay this year the fault of the drought that has crisped lawns and parched plants?
Actually, said Tia Silvasy, residential horticulture agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hillsborough County, jacarandas are very drought-tolerant and like “well-drained, sandy, dry soil.”
“They’re a very, very tough tree,” said Knox. “They deal with all conditions very well.”
Silvasy points out that trees can vary from year to year. Some years, oaks get lots of acorns and mango trees grow a bumper crop. This year’s jacaranda situation “might just be a part of the natural cycle of the tree,” she said.
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Take heart, jacaranda fans.
Jefferis noted that these trees flower twice a year, and fall brings “the heaviest bloom.”
“My prediction is we will have a very wet summer as usual,” he said, “and will have a canopy on fire for the fall.”