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White and purple jacarandas on Herbert Baker Street

The Quest for Pretoria’s White Jacarandas

I’m in America right now and I had really been looking forward to seeing the fall leaves here. I came home at exactly this time last year and the leaves were spectacular. Alas, it’s been a warm autumn on the East Coast and that seems to have slowed down the color change. The leaves have only just begun their transition in Maryland and Virginia.

Not to worry though. While I don’t have any good fall leaf photos yet, I do have good pictures of white jacarandas in South Africa.

White jacarandas looking downThe white jacarandas of Herbert Baker Street.

Two weeks ago I went to Pretoria with my journalist friend Marie-Lais Emond, who writes a weekly column for the Citizen called “Other Side of the City”, to find the legendary white jacarandas. Marie-Lais had known about Pretoria’s white jacarandas for years but had never been able to find them before. Finally this year, someone gave her their exact location on Herbert Baker Street in Groenkloof.

What’s the Big Deal About White Jacarandas?

A bunch of white-flowering trees in early summer might not seem like a big deal to those of you on the American East Coast and in Europe. But if you live in Africa or California or South America or anywhere else jacarandas grow, you’ll understand the significance. Jacarandas are known for being purple; the white ones (at least the white ones in South Africa) are rare and reportedly sterile, meaning they don’t reproduce. Herbert Baker Street is the only place in South Africa where the white trees grow in abundance — there are several dozen of them snaking up the curvy road.

White jacarandas on Herbert Baker StreetWhite jacarandas with a hint of purple on Herbert Baker Street in Pretoria.

Purple jacarandas with a hint of whitePurple jacarandas with a hint of white.

Half purple half whiteHalf-half.

We arrived on Herbert Baker in the middle of a rainstorm and were instantly enchanted by the clouds of white interspersed with purple. I practically ran up and down the street, ignoring the raindrops and thunder, shooting like mad.

White and purple jacarandas with Pretoria Telkom TowerWhite and purple jacarandas with the Pretoria Telkom Tower in the distance.

Marie-Lais marvelingPost-rain, Marie-Lais marvels at the white and purple flower clouds.

White and purple jacarandas on Herbert Baker StreetThis shot is one of my favorites because it includes a yellow-flowering, green-barked fever tree among the jacarandas.

White jacarandas on purpleThis shot is my very favorite.

After roving up and down Herbert Baker for a while, Marie-Lais and I drove a few minutes up the hill in nearby Fort Klapperkop Nature Reserve to check out the white jacarandas from above.

White jacarandas vertical

White jacarandas from Fort KlapperkopThis perspective shows how sparse the white trees are compared to the purple.

Purple-jacaranda-lined streetMiddle Street, a more standard purple-jacaranda-lined street in Pretoria.

Purple jacaranda streetI couldn’t resist including one fully purple street. I have to confess that Pretoria’s jacarandas are much more spectacular than Joburg’s — Pretoria, an hour or so north of Joburg, is a degree or two warmer and the blossoms seem more vivid there.

Read more about Pretoria’s jacarandas in this post by my Pretoria-based travel-blogger friends, the Louwkuls.

Pretoria’s jacarandas peaked earlier in October and I’m not sure how they’re looking this week. But if you hightail it up to Herbert Baker Street immediately, you might still find some white blossoms hanging around. If not, there’s always next year: These white and purple beauties won’t be replanted after they die (jacarandas are classified as alien species in South Africa and it’s against the law to plant new ones) but they’ll probably live another hundred years or so.

White and purple jacaranda blossomsPurple and white blossoms, living together in harmony. How sweet.


Marie-Lais’ column in last Saturday’s Citizen, which was accompanied by my photos, doesn’t appear online so I’ve included the text below.

By Marie-Lais Emond

It’s a dark and stormy few minutes. Lightning cracks; a projectile rain spews. Then, following a thunder roll, they appear in front of us: the almost fabled white jacarandas of Pretoria’s Groenkloof. Here are maybe eighty lined up, branches thrashing in the wind, all down this one road. They were grafted originally, rather than planted, here because they are sterile. Hair and skirt swirling, I rush across the road for the long anticipated better look. A silver car draws up.

“Are you on your way then?” I stop and turn slowly against weather odds, to face the driver.

“Why?” I demand, rather than ask, through lots of hair.

“Oh you look just like someone I know,” she wails. “Enjoy!” Her street gate having glided open, glides back to cover her disappearance.

Heather is on her knees on the wet pavement, surrounded by what looks like flung white confetti. That’s the thing. I’ve seen many pictures of the white jacarandas but they don’t always read as jacarandas without some reference. In this section of Herbert Baker Street, some purple ones oblige as back and side drops. Sun starts streaming though dark cloud and light patches the street.

“It’s like the garden of Eden,” Heather yells above more thunder. She’s looking up at the two different jacaranda colours and a green trunked, yellow blooming fever tree. On the other, loftier side of the road in this part of Groenkloof are one-way mirrored security rooms adjoining the entrances and the gardens look as though they are planted to overawe rather than delight. Soaring palms stand next to soaring cedar trees on tall terraces. Further up and away is Klapperkop.

“We’re actually looking for zebras.” A man with a blond fringe and snor is holding a can of Carling Black Label, surrounded by a crowd of inebriated young Thais, all the males holding Carlings too. I was indicating to them the impressive line down there of the white jacarandas. Heather and I have stopped on Klapperkop next to a capacious four by four. A small girl scampers around with a pink towel to protect her against the faint drizzle. Her elder sister, without a Carling and walking steadily approaches us. The blond points his thumb. “This is my wof.”

As we return I mentally replay the sounds of the street where we were, the white flowers falling with that satisfying “plip” of all jacarandas.

A Day in the Life of a Quirky Melville Tourist

A few months ago, I promised to write periodic posts about Melville guesthouses, restaurants, and shops. I’ve strayed from that commitment — the majority of my posts these days are about the Joburg city centre or more far-flung places outside of town.

So today I’m getting back to my roots. Melville is one of Joburg’s wackiest neighborhoods; it straddles a divide between tree-lined suburbia and urban grittiness. Melville is constantly changing — there are always quirky new places to visit, along with well-loved old standbys.

I’m not a Melville tourist, but I’ve just spent a few days wandering around pretending I am. Here is a recommended itinerary for a one-day visit to the place I call home in Jozi.

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Tortoises, Birds, Locusts, and One Fantastic Sunset

Joe and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden, a national botanical garden northwest of downtown Joburg. Technically it’s within the city limits but you would never guess you’re in a city while you’re there.

“Garden” doesn’t properly describe this place; it’s a large nature reserve with a complicated maze of hiking paths, a bird-watching hide, and spectacular waterfalls. The main garden area – which includes swaths of green grass and an extensive collection of indigenous and endangered southern African plants – was filled with families lugging blankets, coolers, and picnic baskets. But once we walked up into the hills we didn’t see many other people.

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An Honest Living

This post was originally going to be about rain. It rained this week, for the first time in six months, and everything is crisp and green and beautiful. Here are a couple of photos I took with that topic in mind.

Jacaranda petals litter the street after a rain storm.

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A Walk Through Old Johannesburg

Just before dusk yesterday, we went walking in Westcliff — an old, wealthy neighborhood adjacent to Melville. We tramped over a bridge along a busy road as rush hour traffic whizzed past. Then we crossed the street and entered another world.

Sunset through the jacarandas in Westcliff.

The streets of Westcliff are quiet and peaceful and lined with jacaranda trees. The jacarandas haven’t bloomed yet but I love looking up at their black curving branches. In a few weeks they’ll be exploding with purple flowers.

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