It’s a sad day for the University of Sydney community. The famous jacaranda tree which graced the University’s main quadrangle, in the corner by the Latin and philosophy rooms, was found uprooted over the weekend. There are many jacarandas spread across the campus, and indeed across the city – at this time of year all of Sydney is blanketed in purple. But this tree was special. Planted in 1928 by Professor E.B. Waterhouse, a linguist and camellia expert, the tree has been a constant backdrop to study (or procrastination), to graduation ceremonies, and to the constant flow of tourists through the quad. In 2005 the importance of the jacaranda was recognised when it was listed on the City of Sydney’s Significant Tree Register.
Perhaps most significantly, the tree has been the source of a long-standing superstition within the university community, with students believing that if they haven’t commenced studying before the jacaranda begins to bloom each year, they will fail their exams. In their official statement, the university was quick to point out the tree was already in bloom when it died, and to wish students luck in their assessments – perhaps a reaction to the many on social media questioning if the jacaranda’s death meant the cancellation of exams.
Walking through the quadrangle this morning, the space feels strangely empty. Within four hours of the tree’s discovery, garden staff had taken to it with chainsaws, so that all that remains today is a wedge of mulch (some of it perhaps from the tree itself?) where it had stood just days ago. It seems strange to be so affected by the loss, and yet I’m clearly not alone. Many, like me, pause to take photos. A stranger stops me to commiserate. Flowers have been laid in memory.
The space will likely not be empty for long, however. And it won’t be filled by just any tree. Several years ago, in anticipation of this day, the university grafted cuttings of the jacaranda onto the base of two others, creating ‘clones’ which allow them to replace it with a genetically identical tree. And so, perhaps, the tree, and the superstition, live on.