Street trees seen against the sunlight:
This one grows on the pavement outside our garden, so we have been able to enjoy the beautiful purple-mauve blossoms of the Jacaranda – a colour that is very difficult to capture accurately on film.
Jacarandas were brought to South Africa from Argentina in about 1880 for ornamental purposes – particularly for public spaces, such as streets. Those planted along our street look their best when they are in full bloom at this time of the year and carpet the ground underneath them with their lovely blossoms.
Here is a better view of them – the ones on the left-hand side of the street are Brazilian Pepper trees.
The carpet of flowers look very pretty early in the morning, before vehicles have driven over and squished them.
Jacarandas have been planted as street trees in town too. The dark shapes you can see in these trees are seed pods that have already formed.
There was a time when Syringa (Melia azedarach) trees – also known as Persian Lilac (not a name I am familiar with) were planted as attractive shade trees in gardens and as street trees.
The origin of these trees is said to be in India and the Far East, from where they were largely imported for ornamental purposes. Apparently they were already well established in Natal gardens by 1894 and in the Lowveld in the early 1900s. Our municipality removed the indigenous trees we had planted on our verge and replaced them with syringa trees – what a scourge they are proving to be!
Their popularity as street and garden trees stems from them being both fast-growing and look attractive year-round. Their glossy green leaves provide deep shade and in spring the trees are covered in delicately scented lilac-coloured flowers, favoured by bees for their pollen. This fragrance is especially noticeable in the late afternoons and early evenings after a warm day. The flowers are followed by clusters of golden berries which remain even after the trees are bare of leaves. My parents exhorted us from an early age not to eat syringa berries as they are highly toxic!
Given that each tree produces a significant number of berries, it is not surprising that that there are syringa trees all over the country, except for the driest regions. Syringas are invasive trees that are known to have choked streams and formed dense thickets that displace indigenous vegetation.
I have noticed that, among other birds, the Speckled Mousebirds and Knysna Turacos enjoy eating the ripe berries. Cape Turtle Doves and Laughing Doves settle on the streets to eat the fallen seeds that have been crushed by passing vehicles. Seeds are also dispersed by water. A look at the neglected watercourses that run through the town show how easily the trees propagate along the edges and clog up the flow of the water.
In its wisdom, our local municipality planted a row of Brazilian Pepper trees (Schinus terebinthifoliu) along the street that runs in front of our home. I say ‘in its wisdom’ – although, to be fair, this knowledge might not have been readily available forty odd years ago – because not only are their bright red, slightly fleshy fruits poisonous, but the sap of these trees is a skin irritant and affects the respiratory tract! How wonderful to have these as our street trees.
They were probably planted as ornamental trees because they are evergreen with wide-spreading, horizontal branches and the bountiful crop of fruits look attractive. Each of the fruits contain a single seed, most of which are dispersed by birds and animals.
The interesting thing is that this attractive tree is a Category One invasive alien, which means it is illegal to grow it in one’s garden – yet, here is a whole row of them in the street! The Brazilian pepper-tree is native to south eastern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay. It is now classified as a highly invasive species that has proved to be a serious weed in South Africa. Any chance they will be removed by the municipality? Don’t bet on it.
NOTE: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.