The leafless cherry,
Old as a toothless woman,
Blooms in flowers,
Mindful of its youth.
Haiku by Matsuo Basho
The cherry blossom tree is a symbol of Spring and representative of the ephemeral nature of life, as well as being synonymous with the beauty of Japan, its native land. The Sakura, as it is often called there, has elicited a myriad of poems, vast amounts of artwork, plus admirers aplenty, especially in the spring when they bloom profusely across the country. Their cloud-like waves cover the countryside from January through to the end of March, drawing crowds of people to picnic under their flowering limbs, in ancient traditions going back centuries. A feast under its beautiful blossoms with a sake in hand is just the thing to welcome Spring!
From the genus Prunus, the cherry blossom has been cultivated for many centuries and can be found in front of most schools and businesses throughout Japan. Their beauty is renowned throughout the world, drawing visitors en mass to admire the waves of colour that cover the land. As a symbol of friendship and goodwill, many cherry blossom trees have been given to nations around the world, including Canada and the United States, sparking their own cherry blossom festivals. Vancouver, BC holds an annual Cherry Blossom Festival to commemorate the over 37, 000 cherry trees given by Japan and hosts a haiku invitational to encourage poems about the beauty of the cherry blossom. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, held for two weeks at the end of March in Washington, DC recognizes the original gift from Japan of over 3000 trees.
So what is it about the sakura that makes it so special? Cherry blossom trees have flowers that range in colour from pure white to pink. The blossoms emerge, last about a week, then fall and are replaced by the new spring leaves. Cherry blossom trees prefer full sun, where they can produce sweet berries, but can tolerate some shade. Berry production and strength of tree are reduced in shade though. While there are over 400 different species in the Prunus genus, not all of them thrive here in Canada. If you are thinking of planting one, choose from the European or American group, as the Orientals tend to be less hardy.
Once the blossoms are gone, the cherry blossom doesn’t have quite the same wow factor. Most varieties aren’t remarkable their fruit, which tends to be small and shrivelled. The oval leaves are broad and flat, without lobes and with fine, uniform teeth on the edges. The tree itself ranges in height from 15′ – 30′, with a diameter of up to 1′.
With spring officially having arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, it felt like the perfect time to spotlight e beautiful cherry blossom tree. I suspect your’s won’t be blooming quite as early as the Japanese variety this year, but our blooms will come soon enough. Until then, keep your eyes on our neighbours to the far east and enjoy their beautiful floral displays during their Hanami parties. Ours will come soon enough.