Whenever Pretoria-based Karabo Makwetla steps out between September and January, he is met with an explosion of purple, courtesy of Jacaranda trees in full bloom.
A radio jockey for North West University’s Mahikeng campus station NWU FM 105.5, Makwetla is no stranger to these trees. When Spring beckons, the thousands of Jacaranda trees that dot Pretorian avenues (Pretoria is nicknamed Jacaranda City) help the city turn over a new colour. Without a doubt, then, Makwetla thoroughly enjoys the first summer rainfall in October; it is also his “favourite time of the year”.
Pretoria’s purple canopy also draws thousands of visitors to South Africa. Neliswa Nkani, hub head of South African Tourism (for Middle East, India and South East Asia), reveals that there are around 70,000 Jacaranda trees in Pretoria that are in full bloom over an eight-week period.
Jacarandas are not just a pretty seasonal delight; they are a major driving force of tourism to Pretoria, away from hotspots like beachy Cape Town and the scenic Garden Route along the south-eastern coast of the country. “Thousands of tourists flock to Pretoria every year to see the blooms,” says Neliswa, adding, “In fact, up to 80% of the guests in Pretoria’s hotels in October are tourists, who have come specifically for Jacaranda viewing. The interest in the trees has always been there, but has definitely grown manifold in recent times due to digitisation and social media.”
There is considerable cultural significance to the Jacaranda. Many locals see the tree as a constant in the backdrop of South Africa’s ever-evolving socio-political climate. While the Protea is South Africa’s national flower, the Jacaranda (which is actually native to South America) has its own special narrative in the country’s history.
Which is why understating the cultural importance of the colours Jacarandas diffuse into Pretoria — which was once at the heart of this nation’s apartheid regime, and is also currently its administrative capital — would be criminal. “Pretoria is now home to a growing number of black civil servants and foreign embassy workers, who infuse the city with a new sense of multi-culturalism,” says Neliswa, adding, “There is no other tree that can drape Pretoria with magnificent colours like the Jacaranda.”
So how does one find the hottest photo spots in all this purple chaos? Bosman Street in Pretoria Central and Cilliers Street in Sunnyside are known to have some of the oldest Jacarandas in South Africa. It was in Cilliers Street that the country’s first Jacarandas were planted in the late 19th Century, after being imported from Brazil.
A rare sight
It is also claimed that the biggest Jacaranda of them all, and possibly the oldest surviving one, can be found on the corner of Eastwood and Stanza Bopape streets to the northeast of Sunnyside. And for a bird’s eye view, drive along the Klapperkop Nature Reserve trail, whose many viewpoints offer a mesmerising view to admire at this sea of purple engulfing Pretoria. Neliswa calls it “a rarity one should not miss”.
“If you are on one of the northern viewpoints of Klapperkop, you will also be able to spot a line of white trees along the foot of its northern slope. This is Herbert Baker Street in Groenkloof, which has a row of almost 100 white trees. These trees are also Jacarandas. But they have a pure white flower instead of a purple one. They are said to be sterile, and are a cultivar of the main species,” she says.