Are Tampa Bay’s magnificent jacaranda trees, with their lush purple blooms heralding spring, like fireworks on a rainy Fourth of July?
Mike Jefferis, manager of recreational services including parks and recreation for the city of St. Petersburg, says a jacaranda tree he’s admiring in his neighborhood this year is looking “a bit sparse.”
“We typically expect to bloom around this time,” said Brian Knox, senior ranger examiner for the City of Tampa’s planning department. “We do not have it.”
A jacaranda tree can be seen in the backyard of a home on Omaha Street in Palm Harbor.
The jacaranda trees that dot the local landscape, many of which were planted in the 1960’s, 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 at the blossom of a jacaranda tree to tell them when it was time to catch a king mackerel. 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 tree was “the best tree to climb ever” when he was a kid.
“You are just a fantastic tree. They help define our neighborhoods,” he said. “Everyone is very proud of her.”
Like many residents of the Sunshine State, jacarandas, which stretch from central Florida to the Keys, are not native.
“You’ll see an entire block as you drive down the street” when they bloom, Jefferis said. “It’s like smoke.”
A jacaranda bloomed in Gulfport last year.
So is the milder weather in some corners of Tampa Bay this year due to the drought, which has resulted in crisp lawns and shriveled plants?
According to Tia Silvasy, residential gardening representative at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hillsborough County, jacarandas are actually very drought tolerant and like “well-drained, sandy, dry soil.”
“They’re a very, very hardy tree,” Knox said. “They cope very well with all conditions.”
Jacaranda blossoms can be seen on the ground while the tree casts a shadow on the grass along Omaha Street in Palm Harbor.
Silvasy points out that trees can vary from year to year. In some years, oaks get lots of acorns and mango trees produce a bumper crop. This year’s jacaranda situation “might just be part of the tree’s natural cycle,” she said.
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Have courage, Jacaranda fans.
Jefferis noted that these trees bloom twice a year, and fall brings “the heaviest bloom.”
“My prediction is that as always, we’re going to have a very wet summer,” he said, “and a burning canopy in the fall.”