Flowering Cherry (?)
by Helen Dowsett

"First the howling winds awoke us,
The the rain came down to soak us.
Now before the mind can focus-
Crocus!"
---- Lilja Rodgers

Prunus mume is a most welcome surprise in the dark, dreary months of winter. It can bloom as early as January to as late as March, depending on its location. It's been called, incorrectly, a flowering cherry, and in Japan is known as the flowering plum, but in reality it is a flowering apricot

The wintering flowering hapit is invaluable and the tree is hardy to -5° F. Prunus mume grows to 20 feet in height. This oriental species bears great masses of single to full-double white, pink or even red flowers, while cultivars with yellow and even blue flowers are reported in Japan. The blooms are magnificently fragrant and their bloom period is much longer than the cherry's.

In Japan, where more than 250 cultivars are grown, February is "flowering plum" month. Many Japanese parks have hundreds of P. mume trees and more than 25,000 grow in the "Plum Village" of the Yoshino Baigo plum groves along the south bank of the Tama River in northwestern Tokyo. Often the trees, called ume (oo-may) are covered with snow!

During Plum festivals, food stalls sell items from the previous year's crop. Umeboshi, or sour, pickled plum (usually served with cooked rice), tea, plum jam and preserves, vinegar, wine and even plum crackers and noodles are all represented. The festivals draw many thousands of Japanese and foreign tourists to enjoy the flowering trees and food. It really is a festival with the trees described as seemingly festooned with clumps of cotton candy.

There is such a pink tree, here in downtown Puyallup, which has been in bloom since late December. It is nestled in a protected corner (a south and west facing location) with the added protection of two adjoining walls. It truly is a wondrous sight.

Five cultivars of this tree are listed from Greer Gardens in Eugene, Oregon, while Raintree Nursery in Morton, Washington lists four.

Prunus Mume
Drawing by Helen Dowsett

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revised 10/2019