Every year, about this time, Stephanie Carrie, who started the Trees of L.A. Instagram account, gets the same question: “Someone said, ‘I saw a tree the other day, Stephanie. I wanted to ask you what it was?’ I said, ‘Did it have purple flowers? It’s a jacaranda.’ And I’m like, Oh, my god, how many years have you lived in Los Angeles?”
Carrie, who lives in Culver City, started the account to counteract “tree blindness,” the particularly urban syndrome of seeing but not noticing a city’s streetside forestry. She is grateful to the jacarandas for their work.
“The blooms are so extreme and incredible that it’s like the first time someone actually notices that there’s a tree,” she said of the flowering, typically between April and June. “There’s no better remedy for curing tree blindness than a jacaranda in bloom.”
Chances are, if you live in Southern California, your neighborhood park has exploded in purple over the past few weeks. Sidewalks are littered with the sticky blossoms. Maybe you’ve even seen a residential street transformed into a technicolor tree tunnel.
Whatever color you use to describe jacarandas — blue and purple are common, but violet, lavender and even mauve come up — their flowers are a vivid, almost louche presence in the weeks before Memorial Day. The trees paint the sky each year in San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Ana and, most famously, Los Angeles.
According to the most recent data available, there were 148,000 jacarandas in Los Angeles. And while they aren’t the most numerous trees in the city — that would be the Italian cypress at 450,000 — they are certainly among the most distinctive.
Jacarandas are a hallmark of the streetscape, used as metaphors and ambience by writers including Raymond Chandler, Joan Didion and Walter Mosley. Eve Babitz even named the dissolute ingénue protagonist of “Sex and Rage” Jacaranda Leven.
Like palm, orange and eucalyptus trees — the other arboreal eminencies of Southern California — jacarandas are not native to the region. Jacaranda mimosifolia, the blue species in question, came from South America originally and were made popular in California in the early 20th century by the horticulturist Kate Sessions. She planted them in her work as a landscape designer in San Diego, but they soon caught on even farther north.
Their proliferation coincided with the population boom of Los Angeles — which grew to 2.5 million people in 1960 from 576,000 in 1920 — and the blue of their flowers became a shade of the Southern California idea in the American imagination.
D.J. Waldie, an author whose memoir, “Holy Land,” chronicles growing up in Lakewood, one of the first planned communities in the United States, said the jacarandas were an advertisement for the place.
“The developers of tract-house suburbs in Southern California planted very consciously an exotic tree,” Waldie told me.
“We tend to think of suburban places in the early ’50s as being uniform, and frankly kind of uninteresting places. And yet here, in front of a quite ordinary house, you have this glorious blue, purple-blue interloper from the jungle.”
Rachel Malarich, the Los Angeles city forest officer, said the 19,182 publicly managed jacarandas are mostly in “fair to very good” condition despite the oldest ones potentially nearing the end of their normal life spans.
And it shows. Carrie said that around this time every year, her Instagram feed is awash with jacarandas.
“People who do not normally take pictures of trees suddenly have these gorgeous photos of jacarandas,” she said. “On my account, I noticed in general that if there are any flowers, the likes go up by hundreds and hundreds.”
Despite the social media clout, jacarandas are not universally beloved, and any post marveling at their beauty will probably get comments on both their nonnative status and the irksome petals they drop at the end of their spring flourish.
But Malarich finds the fallen blooms part of the charm. “It is stunning just to see that symmetry,” she said. “All of a sudden, there’s a circle on the ground of these evenly spaced flowers that have just fallen naturally from the tree and created this carpet.”
The best way to enjoy the jacarandas, Waldie says, is not very L.A.: no Instagram and no car.
“Jacarandas are particularly appealing for pedestrians. They have a very slight but definite scent. Even as one walks over the fallen flowers, they often make a pleasant little popping sound as you tread over them,” he said. “It’s an olfactory and aural experience, both ear and nose — and eye, also. All the senses are engaged.”
Brian Gallagher is a senior staff editor for The New York Times, based in California.
What we’re eating
24 recipes that make the most of eggs.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Natalie Russell, who lives in Pasadena:
“I’m almost reluctant to share my travel tip because it feels a little bit like giving away a secret beach, but I love camping at Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County. The road to get there off Highway 1 is long and winding and there is no cellphone service when you arrive. Instead you are rewarded with blissful isolation and miles of beautiful, windy beach, perfect for flying kites, splashing in the surf, and even a little tidepooling. There are picnic areas, small cabins to rent, RV and tent camping, and a playground, a small store, and the grill, home of ‘the world famous Jalama Burger.’ If you are lucky enough to score one of the beachfront campsites, mornings are like waking up to a piece of your own private paradise.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Stuart Rembaum and Jim Post weren’t looking for lasting love when they met in 2005 through a gay hiking club in the Bay Area. But hiking led to dating and, eventually, a recognition that despite their differences, the two shared a sensibility about relationships.
Rembaum is a quiet and devoted worrier, while Post is more outgoing and carefree. But both agree that a perfect evening includes a crossword puzzle and listening to jazz music in the company of Rembaum’s beloved cat, Minnie.
Read more from The Times about their love story and recent wedding.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: New York City mayor Adams (4 letters).
Soumya Karlamangla and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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