Thanks, Kate Sessions!

All the jacaranda trees in Southern California are there because of one woman.

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!

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

8 thoughts on “Thanks, Kate Sessions!”

  1. Howdy Barb!

    One of my favorite memories of Kenya are the jacaranda trees. I had assumed they were indigenous to East Africa, but, like you, found out that they weren’t. Stunningly beautiful trees, though. Just stunning.


    1. Yes they are! And an excellent reason to visit Kenya! A friend of mine also introduced me to another gorgeous tree: the Flamboyans. I’d love to see one of those! Like a Jacaranda only bright orange! Nice hearing from you Jack! It’s been a while. Hope all’s well!

      1. Howdy Barb!

        We make the rounds when we both remember and have the time. Unfortunately, a rare alignment of the stars and planets. There was another name for the flame trees. I had a student named after it, but I can’t recall the name right off.

        I saw that you’ll be on hiatus for a bit. All the best with that. I’ve done several. The blogosphere, social media, and the rest of world has always survived mine, I hope we’ll survive yours. We’ll see.

        All the best to you and yours!


      2. I suspect the entire universe will muddle through my absence. It was funny, today, though. I noticed my blog didn’t post and I freaked out. And then I remembered that I’m only doing it every other day now. This will take some getting used to.

      3. Now, that is funny. I’ve had scheduled posts that I’ve forgotten about and was surprised when something’s been posted, but I’m never surprised when nothing is posted. Guilty, yes. Surprised, no.


  2. Oh! those Jacaranda trees! If climate change keeps torturing the Pacific Northwest, with those heatwaves, you may get your purple blooming trees. And thankyou, Barb. Been to Balboa Park many times and never knew about Kate’s statue. The park has so many venues to visit. If you ever travel down to San Diego, it’s a must see stop. It also has the San Diego Zoo which, although known as the first zoo to implement enclosures rather than cages, has recently been criticized for it’s inadequate elephant enclosure. It does a better job at it’s safari park and both have a lot to offer otherwise. Kate’s contributions are seen abundantly at both the zoo and safari park, as I recall. If not for Kate, I couldn’t watch the hummingbirds feed on the birds of paradise, out my window, or enjoy the scent of jasmine on the evening breeze. So… THANKS, KATE SESSIONS!

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