A jacaranda tree adds a touch of vibrant blue to the already stunning summer sky.
The jacaranda’s effect on the blue sky is irresistible to us. They appear during the start of summer, when we anticipate the bluest skies, and enhance them even further. Australian poet Douglas Stewart described the jacaranda as “flaming on the air like a ghost,” as if a door in the sky has unveiled a purer blue.
The flowers drop, flipping the earth towards the heavens, resembling tranquil water mirroring clouds, and in the center is our joyous buoyancy.
Johannesburg, where I grew up, has South American jacarandas, too. They were introduced there by the English, too. The light in my home city isn’t as thick or as soft as Sydney’s; it is thinner and brighter. But the landscape, with no sea to interrupt it, is more thoroughly blanketed by trees, any trees, than Sydney is, and viewed from on top of a hill, it is purpler.
During the summertime of our childhood, my sister and I would accompany our father on car rides through our peaceful neighborhood on our way back from school or the store. Our goal was to find the streets with the most vibrant shade of purple. We would roll down the windows and drive slowly along the curb, listening to the sound of the flowers bursting under the tires. These moments were filled with pure joy for my sister, father, and myself as we appreciated each other’s company, the familiarity of our neighborhood, and the groceries in the car.
I enjoy contemplating this thought, but it also brings to mind memories of strolling around the neighborhood with my mom (after my parents’ divorce, they lived just a few blocks away from each other) and indulging in cornettos. I remember my mom cautioning us to be cautious when picking flowers, as there could be bees hidden inside. To keep these two worlds separate, I employ the technique of jacaranda magical thinking: playfully driving over the flowers to hear them burst, while carefully walking near them to avoid disturbing any bees.
The perspective of a bee when viewing flowers is unique. Due to her ultraviolet vision, she is able to perceive patterns that are not visible to us. According to journalist Ed Yong, flowers have adapted to attract bees, resulting in a more vibrant and diverse world. Interestingly, bee eyes evolved before flowers did, and they are optimized for detecting blue, green, and ultraviolet wavelengths.
The bee buzzes over the jacaranda trees, feeling proud of her ability to control an entire city. She then swoops down into a purple blossom and settles in, using it as a cozy sleeping spot. Her small size causes the flower to droop to the ground. This is her way of thanking us for bringing joy: no one can appreciate the purple hue as much as the bee nestled in the flower’s trumpet.
Helen Sullivan is a Guardian journalist. Her first book, a memoir called Freak of Nature, will be published in 2024
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