On a recent visit to the Los Angeles area, I was blown away by the lilac-colored blossoms of the city’s numerous Jacaranda trees. I had never seen anything like them in my life. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
I was in love. I wanted one of my very own in my yard here in Washington state. But the fact that the Pacific Northwest isn’t already coated with these beauties led me to assume they wouldn’t thrive in this climate. And sure enough, research confirmed my assumption. Well, damn and blast. I’d just have to take lots of pictures and keep those images forever in my memory.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the Jacaranda tree isn’t native to Southern California, either, despite the fact that there are thousands of them in the area. No. They originate in Latin America. Every Californicated Jacaranda tree from San Diego to Santa Barbara has one woman to thank for its very existence: Kate Sessions.
According to this article, Ms. Sessions earned a degree in natural science from U.C. Berkeley in 1881, one of the first women to ever get a degree from that institution. After graduation, she eventually found herself in San Diego, teaching 8th grade. She lasted one year.
She was a very enterprising woman and was always into horticulture, so she got into the nursery and flower shop business. She was particularly interested in exotic plants. She gathered seeds from around the world, and soon became a very popular landscape designer.
In 1892 she leased land in a barren area of what is now called Balboa Park, with the understanding that while cultivating the plants for her business, she would also plant 100 trees there a year. Many of the trees she planted in that San Diego park still stand. In fact, she’s considered the Mother of Balboa Park, and a bronze statue at its entrance commemorates that contribution.
You can also give this woman credit for all the bougainvilleas, birds of paradise and jasmine in Southern California. The beauty that she brought to the area can still be seen 81 years after her death. That’s quite a legacy.
Thanks, Kate Sessions!
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