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The jacaranda we all knew

6 April 2017
A sad loss spurs an unprecedented outpouring of sorrow and reminiscence

When it was planted in 1928, no-one could have known that the small, jacaranda sapling in a corner of the Quadrangle would become one of the most beautiful and beloved parts of the University campus.

On Friday 28 October 2016 the famous jacaranda tree in the Quadrangle was in full flower. Looking at the spread of luxuriant purple, it was easy to see why this tree was such a beloved part of the University community.

But as students and staff walked past it on their way home that afternoon, they couldn’t have known they would never see it again.

That night, the jacaranda toppled over, undermined by a fungal infection that had been slowly eating away at its roots over a number of years. As the news spread, there was a huge and emotional reaction from the whole University community, including more than 23,000 clicks on the University’s online statement: an all-time record.

Fortunately, it was already known that the tree was reaching the end of its natural life, so in 2014 cuttings had been taken, and two clones produced. The clones, one of which will be planted in the Quadrangle, are being nurtured by Jim Warner (BA ’63 LLB ’67), an alumnus who is now a specialist tree grower. Jim has photographs of himself under the old tree on the day of his graduation in 1967. “Everyone knew that tree,” he says. “It was a big part of the character of the Quadrangle and the University, especially in full bloom.”

One of the clones will be planted in the Quadrangle. Though it will be genetically identical to the original tree, it will be shaped differently by weather and other circumstances.

The original jacaranda was planted in 1928, part of a spree of jacaranda planting conducted by EG Waterhouse, a professor at the University and keen horticulturist. He planted four jacarandas in the Quadrangle – an aerial photograph from 1949, held in the archives of the City of Sydney, shows them clearly. No one knows what happened to the other three, though some suspect pilfering.

Professor Waterhouse planted the now iconic tree near the rooms where philosophy classes were once held. During the course of the tree’s 88 years, students and staff from all disciplines have thought, talked, rested, studied and even kissed beneath its branches.

Countless graduates, brides and tourists have been photographed in front of the jacaranda, and waves of departing students have taken home its image.

As the new sapling grows, it will no doubt also become the living heart of the University, as new generations of students walk past and feel quietly glad it’s there.
 

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