When you stand out in a family full of lookers, you know you’re something pretty special. Such is the case with the Jacaranda tree, Jacaranda mimosifolia. As a member of family Bignoniaceae, it shares space with other notable ornamentals such as Cape honeysuckle, orange jubilee, African tulip tree, desert willow, catalpa tree, trumpet creeper, and cross vine.
Within its own genus, there are somewhere around 50 other species, all clamoring for some attention, many of whom so closely resemble each other it’s difficult to tell them apart. Yet the mimosifolia reigns supreme, and is hands-down the most widely used type of Jacaranda, sharing ornamental designation with only one other species (cuspidifolia).
If you’ve never seen or worked with a Jacaranda, you’re in for a treat.
A neighborhood street doused in the quintessential purple of Jacarandas in bloom.
The Beloved Jacaranda
A group of Jacarandas in bloom creates an even bigger wow-factor than a single specimen. If you have the room, consider adding more than one for maximum enjoyment.
People and places all over the world have fallen in love with the Jacaranda tree, and it’s become such a recognizable symbol of the culture of these places that its actual nativity is forgotten. Australia, Africa, Europe, Mexico, and the US all have states, countries, or regions that have become known for their Jacaranda populations; Australia and Africa are often mistaken as the locations of origin.
Today, the species is considered “cosmopolitan,” meaning it is now geologically distributed throughout most, if not all, of the regions on the planet, having been introduced at some point in history to all of them.
Before those introductions took place, Jacs grew exclusively in the tropical and subtropical climates of South America’s Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. There’s minimal information available as to exactly how and when the species spread beyond South America. They likely first came to the United States by way of California, where trailblazing horticulturalist Kate Sessions planted hundreds of her imported seeds throughout what is now known as San Diego’s Balboa Park, among other places. They were a hit, and southern California is now home to tens of thousands of Jacaranda trees.
Thanks to the innovative vision of Kate Sessions in the late 1800s, southern California is now home to a large Jacaranda tree population.
The tree is a fan favorite for several different reasons. It:
- Is a real showstopper, with not one but two dazzling lavender-blue bloom cycles every season
- Can easily pull off being the statement piece or focal point of your garden
- Loves sunshine and warm weather, and is drought-tolerant once established
- Is one of the easiest trees to propagate and grow
- Is a shade tree under which other things can still grow
- Has several relevant medicinal applications
Yes, they make a mess, but it’s a gorgeous mess. As a commercial landscape contractor, I can tell you, this is debris very few customers complained about.
- Is fast-growing and strong if pruned correctly when young
- Has very few issues with disease and pests
- Even looks beautiful when dropping its flowers, covering the ground with a light blanket of its famous purple blooms
- Looks delicate and high-maintenance, but is deceptively tough and low-maintenance
- Blends well with any style of landscape design
If you live in USDA cold hardiness zones 9-11, you’re in prime Jacaranda real estate. But if not, don’t lose hope. This spectacular beauty can still share a home with you under the right circumstances.
How to Grow a Jacaranda Tree: From Seed
The pod and winged seeds of the Jacaranda tree.
This method takes patience. If you don’t have seven years to wait for blooms, growing from seed isn’t the method for you. That’s the low end of the average wait time, with some trees taking close to 14 years to produce any color at all.
Starting trees from seed can sometimes be an involved process depending on the species, but the process with Jacs is well-known for being one of the easiest. The best time and place are indoors and in the spring. You can pick Jacaranda seed pods right from the tree; ignore the pods on the ground, as they may not contain seeds.
Most pods should already have a small, split-style opening, but if that opening isn’t large enough to extract the seeds, go ahead and break it apart. A firm but restrained hit (enough to crack the exterior but not damage what’s inside) with a small hammer will break the shell enough for you to use your hands to finish pulling apart an opening large enough to tap out the seeds. You can also buy loose seeds already removed from their pods from various retailers and nurseries.
Note: Self-propagating Jacaranda seeds are encased in a papery-looking type of film, giving them a winged appearance. In fact, the seeds are actually called “winged,” meaning they can ride the wind great distances and populate areas far away from the source tree.
The fruit of the Jacaranda tree is a round, brown dry pod between one and three inches wide. It typically forms in late summer.
Once the loose seeds are ready to go, the process continues as follows:
- Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours.
- Prep a starter tray (small pots or large ice cube trays also work) with starter soil that’s coarse and a little sandy. Bark mulch and sand can be mixed into regular starter soil, or an agave/cacti starter mix can be used. Moisten the soil just before planting.
- Drop one seed into each compartment, push just below the surface with your finger, and gently cover with displaced soil.
- Keep the soil moist; it cannot be allowed to dry out.
- In approximately one week, you should see sprouts emerging; in two weeks, you should have bonafide seedlings.
- Once the seedlings are a few inches tall, remove them from the starter trays and transplant into their own individual containers.
- Keep the containers in an inside location that allows for natural light exposure for about eight months. Remember to check the soil regularly and keep it moist.
- At around eight months of age or after, the plants can be taken outside and transplanted into their permanent location. Tips and instructions for this process are below.
How to Grow a Jacaranda Tree: From Cuttings
When working with cuttings, always be sure to use a clean, sharp knife, a clean glass, and clean water.
Growing Jacaranda trees from cuttings is even easier than from seed. You’ll also see blooms much sooner — typically by two or three years of age. This process is best done in early summer, when cuttings are considered “semi-ripe.”
Note: Cuttings can be rooted by soaking in water or by planting in a soilless medium, i.e. perlite. Jacaranda cuttings tend to be more successfully rooted when soaking in water. Using a growth or rooting hormone is also not needed with Jacarandas.
- Cut a limb tip that’s at least six inches in length and is showing the baby sprouts of brand new growth. The bottom cut should be at a 45-degree angle. Make sure you take cuttings from a healthy tree receiving adequate water. Avoid cutting from sick or thirsty trees.
- Scarify the planting end of the cutting similar to the way you’d scarify a seed for germination. Gently abrade the bottom inch and a half to two inches; you should see the brown skin wear away to expose green underneath. This encourages faster root generation.
- The cutting should have about two rows of existing growth. Remove any additional existing growth by cutting away from the center limb. Do not cut too close to the center limb, and use 45-degree-cuts. Cut as flush to the center limb as possible without damaging it.
- Place the cutting (abraded tip first) into a 16-or 20-ounce bottle of water.
- Change out the water at least once a week, if not twice.
- When small roots are visible, plant the cutting in a small pot with nutrient-rich soil. Water enough to keep the soil moist but not wet, and allow the tree to grow until the roots are established and the tree is sturdy enough to handle the transplant outdoors. Tips and instructions for this process are below.
How to Grow a Jacaranda Tree: From Established Seedling
“Jacaranda seedling about 10 days after germination. Seed taken from a tree in Encinitas, CA.” by Cole Shatto / CC BY 3.0.
The most common method of obtaining an established seedling is through a nursery. They’ll typically start at a 15-gallon-size and go up from there. Jacs are fast growers when they’re young, so unless you need an immediate visual impact, a 15-gallon-size should suffice. Some smaller nurseries may even have
5-gallon-size buckets available.
Jacaranda babies sometimes pop up around the base of large mature trees. If you trust your digging and uprooting skills, you can dig up some of these pups and transplant them into small pots prepped with nutrient-rich soil. If they’re large enough and can survive the transplant, they can go right into the ground at their chosen location.
Whether you started from seed, from cuttings, or you have a nursery specimen, the same rules for planting apply. Those rules are:
- Choose a location that gets full sun six hours a day. Jacs are native to a tropical climate, which means they like it hot and they like it humid. They can survive without the humidity, with adequate water, but they cannot thrive without a good amount of sunshine. Their bloom cycle will also be less profuse without enough sun time.
- Make sure they have room to grow. Avoid planting too close to buildings, overhead power lines, or anything else that might be in the way of their eventual full-grown size. Jacs reach a height of about 40-50 feet, sometimes 60’. Their upward- and outward-growing canopies can stretch out almost as wide. It’s best to give them wide-open spaces to accommodate these dimensions.
Jacs are often as wide as they are tall. It’s important to give them the space they need to stretch up and out as far as they want.
- Avoid waterlogged ground or shade from other trees. Look for an area of soil that has no issues with standing water or flooding. An area where other plants are already growing is good as long as the young Jac isn’t planted under the canopy and in the shade of a larger tree. Turf areas are OK, too. One of the great things about Jacaranda trees is that their sprawling and open canopies both give off nice shade and allow sunlight to hit anything growing underneath it.
- Plant in soil that’s nutrient-rich and well-draining. Soil that stays too wet will cause the tree to suffer and likely cause root rot. Jacs tolerate a lot of different soils, but nothing too heavy or too wet. Their preference is a sandy soil that’s slightly acidic in pH. Rich nutrients provide valuable food and alleviate the need for much fertilizer down the road. A soil test before planting will tell you the pH and exactly how to amend the soil. Other plants growing in the area are a good indicator that the soil can sustain healthy life. When the location is selected, break up the soil going down from the surface about 18 inches. Break apart any large clumps. Water the area immediately before planting.
- Avoid planting in the heat of summer. Planting from fall through early spring is best as the weather is mild. They do love the heat, but very young trees can be stressed by too much of it, and planting a stressed seedling can cause further damage or even death. Regardless of the weather, soak the Jac in its container the night before planting. The root ball will be moist the next morning when it goes in the ground.
Once established, Jacaranda trees thrive in the heat of summer. But until establishment, the harsh summer heat can be too much, sending them into shock.
- Protect from salt. Jacs are sensitive to salt and can suffer damage from it. Especially in humid climates, care should be taken to protect the tree from sea spray. This can be achieved by planting them where they’re sheltered from the wind.
- Remember: same depth, double width. A standardized practice in gardening is to dig a hole that’s the same depth as the root ball, and twice the width. This is a good rule of thumb to follow when planting as it accommodates most species. If you have a nursery specimen with an attached nursery stake, that should be removed at this time.
- Check the roots. Remove the root ball from the container and inspect for signs of disease or death. You’re looking for black spots or squishy areas. Those can be cut right off. Lightly loosen the remaining healthy roots. Make sure you are using a clean knife.
Top-dressing the planting area with mulch decreases weed growth, protects the roots from harsh elements, and keeps moisture in the soil. There are many kinds of mulch available: different woods, different sizes, and different colors are all available.
- Drop, backfill, water-in, mulch. Scoop some soil back into the hole, “drop” (this is landscaping terminology, referring to placing or planting in the ground, but it’s not a literal drop; place carefully to keep the root ball in tact) the Jacaranda in the hole, and hold upright with one hand while you backfill with the other. Tamp down periodically to settle any air pockets. When the hole is filled in, there should be about a quarter- to half-inch of root ball exposed from the top. Water the tree in, giving the planting area a deep soak. Finish off by adding a 2-inch-deep layer of a lightweight mulch over the planting area. This discourages weed growth, protects the roots, and keeps the soil moist.
A note about nursery stakes: It’s common for nursery seedlings to be attached to a nursery stake, typically a length of bamboo. It’s also a common mistake to drop plants with that stake still attached in this manner. Nursery stakes should always be removed. If the seedling requires support to remain upright, re-stake the correct way. This video is an excellent tutorial on the proper way to stake a tree, and explanation of why we do it this way.
Growing a Jacaranda (or any tree) doesn’t stop after the planting is done. That’s just the beginning. Trees can have very long lives, and Jacarandas have been known to live 200 years or longer. Every species has specific maintenance preferences that make their lives happy ones. Here’s what to do for happy Jacs.
Always keep an eye on the leaves of your Jacaranda tree, for they communicate valuable information. Leaves that are yellow, wilting, and dropping too early are signs of not enough water, while undersized leaves could be an indicator of too much.
As is the case with most trees, Jacs require regular watering during the establishment period. A deep soak once a week is the general rule, though that may vary depending on climate. To know for sure, look at the top three or four inches of soil. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. If there’s still moisture in that range, it can dry out a bit more.
Once established, Jacs can survive long periods of drought, and in fact require that to a degree to thrive. In humid climates, irrigation is usually not needed at all after they establish unless there are particularly long periods of drought. In arid regions, irrigation is needed to offset the missing humidity, and it’s always needed in temperatures above 95-degrees. Always withhold manual watering during rainy periods to avoid oversaturation.
Jacaranda tree limbs sometimes want to grow in zig-zag patterns, which can result in a structurally unsound tree later in life if not properly addressed when younger. For example, this Jac should have had the bottom limb jutting out from the left side of the trunk removed completely.
Left to their own devices, Jacarandas can get involved in some crazy limb structure. This can cause splitting, which is a gateway to a whole host of other problems. To promote strength and stability, start pruning early in their life to form one central leader (the main trunk). Major canopy limbs should be equally spaced out.
Once the tree has been formed and is growing in this manner, seasonal pruning should consist only of removal of dead/dying or diseased wood; cross branches can be removed as well.
It’s important to not remove more than necessary. For example, crown-thinning is a type of regularly-occurring pruning on most trees, especially those in windier climates. But Jacarandas’ naturally open canopy shouldn’t require that.
Diseases and Pests
Jacarandas have very few problems in this area. Like all other plants, they can get hit with scale or aphids, both of which are typically addressed with most pesticides. If the soil isn’t draining well, the trees are likely to develop root rot. Some Jacaranda trees have been known to get oleander scorch, caused by a lethal bacteria carried by a pest. It’s all about prevention, in this case, because there’s no cure for oleander scorch.
Ash flies attack trees by destroying the leaves. Untreated, the damage can kill the tree. It’s not an ongoing problem, but rather an on-again/off-again situation that occurs infrequently. In Arizona, we’ve seen occasional damage caused by the ash fly, which can kill entire trees by destroying the leaves. The fly’s naturally occurring predators had to be imported from Europe to address the problem, as they weren’t affected by chemical pesticide applications. Fortunately, this method works and eradicates the problem entirely.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution and call a local certified arborist if you need help identifying a possible illness or pest infestation in your trees. Most won’t charge you to come out, inspect your trees, and give their recommendation.
Smaller Jacaranda Options
If you don’t have the room for a 50’ x 50’ tree, but still have your heart set on a Jacaranda, there are a couple different options available to you.
Jacaranda mimosifolia is one of the species of trees favored by today’s bonsai enthusiasts for its ability to continually produce new buds on old wood. Ficus, cypress, boxwoods, pines, and Bougainvillea spp. are other bonsai favorites.
Their natural, full-grown size notwithstanding, Jacaranda trees lend themselves surprisingly well to being kept in the bonsai style. Bonsai is a Japanese art form that combines horticulture with aesthetics, and is adopted from a Chinese art form somewhat similar in nature. It is the micro-mimicking of a full-size tree as it occurs in nature, scaled down to a mere fraction of the size, using a small piece of tree to achieve the look of an entire tree.
Jacaranda bonsais can be started from seed, cutting, or nursery specimen, just like a standard Jac. The keys to keeping the Jac as small as possible for as long as possible are regularly occurring selective pruning and trimming the roots. Trimming often will have the tree pushing new growth, resulting in smaller leaves.
The Japanese adaptation of Bonsai accomplishes the look of a full size tree as it occurs in nature, using only a very small fraction of material from the actual tree.
On left: pine trees in their natural habitat. On right: a bonsai representation
Trim the roots once or twice per year when performing repotting. Small, fine feeder roots (new roots) should be left alone. Older, thicker roots can be cut away. Be careful not to cut away more than two-thirds of the root system.
Planting in a shallow bowl in the traditional bonsai style is also important to keeping the tree small.
All other care of the Jacaranda bonsai should be the same as when caring for a standard Jac. Same light, water, and soil conditions apply. If you want your bonsai to flower, it is going to need some sunshine.
This process requires patience and practice, and oftentimes a trial-and-error system while you acclimate the Jac to what you’re asking it to do. But it’s also an activity that can be immensely relaxing, centering, and satisfying. Bonsai has been shown to help reduce stress and even sharpen decision making skills.
In the last few years, an exciting development has occurred in horticulture. A viable dwarf Jac cultivar of the mimosifolia species was introduced to the ornamental market after years of trials. It’s the Jacaranda mimosifolia ‘Bonsai Blue,’ and it stays contained to a full-grown height of about 10- to 12-feet. Take a look:
Both the bonsai and dwarf cultivar are great options if you need to scale back in size. These two are special in that they can still deliver a highly impactful experience based on their beauty, virtually no less so than their full-size counterpart.
Jacaranda’s Wellness Benefits
Between its purple-hued perfection and almost “magical” healing properties, Jacarandas seem to have a generous, benevolent spirit.
Jacaranda trees have an ability to make us feel good just by being beautiful — it feels good to look at lovely things. It stirs something deep within us. But a successfully grown, healthy Jacaranda can offer more than surface beauty. Some of its healing powers are exceptionally noteworthy:
- Water extract acts aggressively against E. coli and Staph
- The tree has been used to treat hepatitis
- The flowers, leaves, and bark combine to successfully mitigate neuralgia and varicose veins
- Scientific studies have shown that specifically formulated extractions kill leukemia cancer cells
- Hot baths with Jacaranda leaves soothe and treat various skin infections and conditions
- Is used in the successful treatment of acne
- Used to treat amoebic dysentery, syphilis, and gonorrhea, providing a needed option for those allergic to penicillin
- Also treats mental enfeeblement, voracious appetite, and epilepsy
A variety of methods can be used to consume Jacaranda. Many use essential oils derived from the leaves, bark, fruit, or flowers. A water extract taken from the same parts can also be used internally or externally. Doses typically range from 15 to 30 drops four times a day. You can also make remedies from powders and extracts, though those are somewhat difficult to find.
Does It Only Come in Purple?
So, purple isn’t your thing. But does that mean you can’t have a Jacaranda? Nope! Check out the ‘Alba’ cultivar – it’s pure white.
“White Jacaranda in March 2016” by John / CC BY-SA 2.0.
Truly something for everyone.