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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.