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What is a Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree?

By B. Chisholm
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Japanese cherry blossom tree is one of the most recognized symbols of Japan. There are numerous varieties of cherry trees, and their blossoms range from white to deep pink, depending on the variety. The Japanese cherry blossom tree features significantly in Japanese culture, including in festivals, foods and Japanese art. Most of the cherry trees are ornamental rather than edible-fruit-bearing, and the beautiful spectacle of their blooms in the springtime attract many visitors each year.

There are numerous varieties of Japanese cherry tree, each with its own preferred growing area, growing patterns, leaves, blooms and fruit. The Japanese cherry blossom tree belongs to the genus Prunus, to which many other stone fruit trees such as plums and peaches also belong. Deciduous in nature, they lose their leaves on an annual basis, during the winter, and their profusion of blossoms announces the arrival of spring.

The beauty of the tree has led it to be grown in many other parts of the world, even those with cooler, more temperate climates. They do not do well in hot or humid areas and need deep, well-drained soil to survive. Different varieties require slightly different conditions to thrive, and the variety chosen for planting in an area should be based on these factors.

Edible cherries are found on a small number of varieties of the Japanese cherry blossom tree, mainly the wild cherry, or Prunus avium. The ornamental cherry leaves and blossoms can also be eaten, mainly pickled or salted, and used for decoration. Care needs to be taken not to eat large quantities of the leaves, though, as they contain an anticoagulant constituent.

Cherry blossom trees have existed in Japan for thousands of years, the most popular being Somei Yoshino, or Prunus x yedoensis. It is also called the Yoshino cherry, named after the town Yoshino, where it first grew. It is a relatively small tree and has extremely pretty flowers, ranging from white to light pink, with a delicate fragrance. The flowers are arranged in clusters of five or six and come out before the leaves grow in spring.

Japanese culture embraces symbolism, and the Japanese cherry blossom tree and its flowers feature in many sectors. Due to the fleeting nature of the blooms, they are often used as a symbol of mortality. The beauty of the flowers and blooming of spring also symbolizes love and good fortune. The cherry blossom can be found on some coins, in Japanese art and poetry, on traditional fabrics used to make up kimonos and in Japanese film. Annual cherry blossom festivals are held each year, celebrating the arrival of spring.

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Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Apr 26, 2014

This article mentions how people visit various places in Japan to see the cherry blossoms. One of the most popular seasonal events/attractions is the sakura cherry blossom season in Tokyo. The blooming of the trees marks the end of winter and the beginning of the rebirth that comes with spring.

By Feryll — On Apr 26, 2014

During World War II, the Japanese cherry blossom tree was used as a symbol of nationalism in an effort to encourage and motivate the citizens of Japan to rally around the war effort. The trees also symbolize clouds in the country for an obvious reason--the blossoms look a bit like clouds.

By Animandel — On Apr 25, 2014

@Sporkasia - Originally, there were twelve different types of cherry blossom trees on and around the Washington Monument grounds. The trees were a gift and the total number of trees was over three thousand.

By Sporkasia — On Apr 25, 2014

@Laotionne - I don't know where all of the cherry blossom trees in Washington came from and I don't know how many varieties there are, but I do remember that many of the trees are Yoshino cherry trees.

The Yoshino cherry tree came from Tokyo originally. There are also other Japanese cherry blossom trees on the Washington Monument grounds, but I think the Yoshino is the most popular. At least it is the one I hear and read about most.

By Laotionne — On Apr 24, 2014

Each year I marvel at the pictures of the cherry blossom trees blooming in the United States capital, Washington D.C. The beautiful blossoms and the large number of trees make for an overwhelming experience for visitors.

Are the trees in Washington Japanese cherry blossoms or some other variety of cherry tree?

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