"If you haven’t started studying when the jacarandas bloom, you will fail your exams!’
Jacaranda flowers create a carpet below the trees. (Image: Getty image).
My parents and previous generations joked about this adage in their university days – and it's still heard around UQ today.
Generations of students have recognised jacaranda flowers as a harbinger of end-of-year exams.
Another saying claims: "If a jacaranda flower falls on your head, you will fail your exam."
The aphorisms are not just heard at UQ – they are associated with assessment and exam periods in schools and universities around greater Brisbane.
The delicate petals of a jacaranda flower. (Image: iStock.)
Walking around the St Lucia Campus in mid-October, I couldn’t help but notice the jacarandas were blooming well before exam time.
The jacaranda flowers in warm weather, mostly in late spring and early summer.
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology reports that in November 1985, Brisbane’s average daily maximum temperature was 26.6 degrees, however 24 years later in November 2019, it was 28.2 degrees.
This data indicates the jacaranda blooms' favoured conditions have been arriving earlier in the year. But why?
Jacarandas and sandstone make a classic UQ scene. (Image: UQ).
It could be because of what scientists and others are calling "climate change". Novel, I know.
But the fact is, UQ's jacarandas are blooming earlier than in decades past. Perhaps they are trying to warn us that the world is changing.
This could one day make the historical student adages about jacarandas a thing of the past.
UQ has adopted the jacaranda as an emblem, as it is a landmark feature of the campuses. (Image: iStock).
The beautiful species is not native to Brisbane or Australia but from the earliest days of European occupation, jacarandas have informed a sense of place in this area.
They have also supported local understanding of seasons that can be related back to traditional ways of telling time, calendar events and keeping track of the year.
A famously beautiful jacaranda on the roundabout on Sir Fred Schonell Dr. (Image: UQ image).
Climate change is disrupting key historical contexts, but it also reminds historians and archaeologists that the climate has been changing since antiquity.
Therefore, we can presume much historical knowledge about seasons, plants and traditions is missing from current Western understandings.
Some UQ jacarandas bloomed briefly in May this year. (Image: UQ image).
Contexts of ancient sayings and agricultural practises have been lost, and the introduced jacaranda can be seen as a living, ethnographic example of this knowledge loss.
Symbolism can change and evolve over time due to a number of factors.
My grandfather studied at UQ in the mid-1960s. He says jacarandas were especially important to him and fellow scholars because in those days the end-of-year exams would assess an entire year’s worth of content.
He said it was well acknowledged that if students hadn't started preparing for exams by the time the purple blooms appeared, they were in trouble.
Purple lighting added to the Bloom Festival Long Table Dinner atmosphere this year. (Image: UQ).
His assessment period was in November, as it is currently for many UQ students.
Obviously, the exam system has changed in many ways since, and the jacaranda's symbolism has shifted slightly as well.
The University has adopted the jacaranda bloom as an emblem, and a landmark feature of the campuses.
Jacarandas have become an emblematic feature of UQ. (Image: iStock).
My grandfather also attributes the shift in when jacarandas bloom to climate change and has noticed the flowers appearing earlier every year.
It may be sad to some that the jacaranda's colloquial "exam-time" symbolism is slowly becoming irrelevant with the changing climate.
However it demonstrates how climate and local environment can alter mythology and common understandings.
It begs further research into what other traditional and local knowledges climate change is over-riding, and how ancient lore might have had to adapt to changing climates in the past.
Preserving our current histories is important, but climate change need not cause antipathy or despondency.
We can see UQ's early-blooming jacarandas as a reminder of climate change, but they can also prompt us to wonder how historical myths and legends may have had to adapt to changing climates in eons past.