Sunday, April 30, 2017

Visiting Northern Japan--Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)

cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan
Cherry blossoms, Tendo City, Japan
Japan is famous for celebrating spring with cherry blossoms. In mid April we flew from Colorado where we don't have a lot of flowering cherries but where the apples and crabapples were in full bloom.
apple blossoms, Colorado
Apple blossoms, northern Colorado

In Tokyo, the cherry blossom season was ending. I did get a glimpse of how it must have looked a few days earlier.

cherry blossoms, Tokyo

cherry blossoms, Tokyo

The flowering cherries, sakura if you look online in English, zakura as the Japanese name in plant identification books, have been cherished and grown by the Japanese for more than a thousand years. The main native species are Prunus x yedoensis, P. jamasakara, P. serrulata, and P. pendula, but there are hundreds, probably thousands, of hybrids and named varieties. The colors range from white through deep pink, single and double. 

In addition, related plants from around the world, such as American plums, Prunus americana, peaches Prunus persica, and apples, Malus domesticus, flower about the same time across Japan. All are rose family, Rosaceae, and most in the same genus, Prunus despite different common names, which is why the flowers are often so similar. I decided to be lazy and simply enjoy the splendor of the flowers, not identify the trees. If you are buying a flowering cherry, since there is so much diversity, look critically at the description of the particular plant, not just the species. 

From Tokyo, the tour I was on, a garden tour organized by Pacific Horticulture Society (link), went north and then east. First, north to Nikko and Lake Chuzenji.

I had wanted to see the mountains of Japan and ooh! impressive!

near Kegon Falls, Japan

It wasn't a mountain-viewing tour, but look:
Lake Chuzenji, Japan
Lake Chuzenji
In the Kairakuen Garden in Mito City, we saw a field of Japanese apricots, mume in English, ume in Japanese. These are Prunus mume, called Japanese apricot or Japanese plum, with a fruit rather different from the apricots (Prunus armeniaca) and plums (Prunus domestica) sold in American grocery stores. The fruit of mume is the size of an American wild plum and very sour, usually eaten pickled. But mume are particularly grown for their early spring flowers, which, like Japanese cherries, have been bred to be white to intense pink, single and double, with a sweet fragrance. This ordinary-looking orchard must have been spectacular a month earlier. (pictures online link).

Field of Japanese plums, Mito
Japanese apricot (plum) orchard, for flowers not fruit
As we got farther north and higher in elevation, we caught up with the cherry blossoms.

cherry blossoms, Hiraizumi, Japan
Sakura at Hiraizumi
I especially liked the weeping cherries

weeping cherry, Japan

but clouds of white and pink were wonderful too.

cherry blossoms, Japan

More mountains, these seen from the Yamadera Temple, Yamagata Prefecture.

View from Yamadera Temple, Japan

In Tendo City, we arrived on a weekend to find the cherry blossoms at their peak. On Sunday, in lovely spring weather, lots of people came out to enjoy sakura-viewing and a local festival, letting me capture these photos:

The row of trees below will look like the mume photo in a week. Planting big stands of trees that have just a brief period of glory is common in Japan. Beyond the beauty, there's a philosophical statement: cherish the moment! Flowering is fleeting, life is fleeting: savor it.

cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan

cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan
Sakura in full bloom, Tendo City.
This lady, all dressed up for the festival, kindly posed under the cherry trees for me.

Out enjoying the cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan

And, classically, a young couple picnic under the flowering sakura.

picnic under the cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan

How absolutely stunning, northern Japan in spring!

flowering cheries, Tendo City, Japan

Comments and corrections welcome.

Levy-Yamamori, R. and G. Taaffe. 2004. Garden plants of Japan. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
Richards, B. W. and A. Kaneko. 1989. Japanese plants. Know them and use them. Shufunotomo Co. Ltd. Tokyo, Japan. 
van Wyk, B-E. 2005. Food plants of the world. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. 

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

1 comment:

  1. Tokyo is a place full of flowers that grabs the attention of botanists. So they should visit this place for their research. Sounds great informational blog.