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What is a Plum Blossom?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A plum blossom, as you might imagine, is the blossom of a plum tree. When the term “plum blossom” is used, however, most people use it to refer to a specific variety of plum native to Asia and known as the ume plum. Ume flowers have special significance in Asian culture, especially in China and Japan, where they are prized for their beauty and delicacy. Numerous works of Asian art depict these blossoms, ranging from silk paintings to poems.

The ume plum or Prunus ume is actually more like an apricot than a plum, producing orange fruit with a deep groove. Ume fruits are used extensively in Asian cuisine, in both fresh and pickled form. When pickled, the fruits are known as umeboshi. Plums are also pressed to make wines and vinegars. Many traditional Chinese and Japanese gardens feature at least one ume tree, often with a carefully chosen location for good luck.

The plum blossom is a distinctive and unique flower because it blooms in the dead of winter, while there is still snow on the branches of the parent tree. The flowers emerge before the leaves, and they are pale white with oval-shaped petals. Many people cut sprays of plum blossoms to use as cut flowers in the home and as decorations around the lunar new year, an important holiday in Asian culture. These blossoms also appear as decorative motifs in traditional garments such as kimonos, and they often appear in jewelry, executed in precious metals, ivory, wood, and various gems.

In Japan, the plum blossom is treated as an early sign of spring. Spring festivals often feature ume blossoms, symbolizing the end of winter and the beginning of a season of warmth and fertility. In China, on the other hand, the symbolism of this blossom is tied up with winter, with the blossom being used as a metaphor for strength, resilience, and the ability to overcome adversity. Many poems and works of art about revolutionary struggle from China feature the plum blossom.

The Chinese have also long associated this blossom with the nobility, and it still appears in the crests of some Chinese cities. In Taiwan, the plum blossom is the national flower, and throughout mainland China and Taiwan, plum blossoms appear on currency and company logos. These delicate flowers also symbolize beauty and longevity, making them popular with women of all ages.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SteveWalkey1 — On Jul 25, 2012

Can anyone please tell me which Japanese tree blossom is white, with five petals and a darker, messy looking stamen? I've just bought a silk painting and am trying to research it.

I'm also trying to ID a bird, which has a long brown tail, with a fantastic brown speckled head and back and a pure white breast. Any info will be gratefully received. I'd just like to add: At last! A page without cavemen by the look of it. Go, Geeks!

By candyquilt — On May 15, 2012

@feruze-- I agree with you, plum blossoms are more beautiful, the colors are magnificent. I saw them in Osaka, Japan and loved the purple and magenta blossoms. I had never seen blossoms in those colors before.

The best part is how there is absolutely nothing around, it's freezing cold and then you see these blossoms on the trees. It's like a friendly reminder to everyone who's sick of winter that spring is just around the corner. Plum blossoms are the first arrivers, everything else only gets going in May.

I wonder if I could grow a plum blossom tree here in the States? I think the weather would be suitable. Has anyone tried planting them?

By bear78 — On May 14, 2012

@turquoise-- Yes, they do look very similar, the size and shape of the flowers and colors are almost the same.

In my opinion, plum blossoms are slightly more delicate and more beautiful than cherry blossoms. And some plum blossoms colors are darker and more pigmented. I even saw one tree with red plum blossoms! They can be so breathtaking, especially when it's surrounded by white snow everywhere.

If you go to Tokyo in March, you should be able to see plum blossoms there. Plums generally blossom several weeks before the cherries, although it does change from year to year.

I went to Tokyo two years ago in mid-March. The plums were in full bloom and some of the cherry trees had started to bloom. It was a great time. It all looked so beautiful, I will never forget it.

By turquoise — On May 14, 2012

I've heard of cherry blossoms before but never plum blossoms. I believe cherry blossoms are Japanese too right? I've seen them at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC.

Do plum blossoms look like cherry blossoms at all? And which would you say is more significant for Japanese culture?

Because just like plum blossoms, cherry blossoms signify the coming of spring too since they blossom in March. I hope I'll be able to see plum tree blossoms one day as well.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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