1232 Prunus serrulataCommon Names: Japanese flowering cherry, Japanese cherry,oriental cherry, hill cherry Family: Rosaceae (rose Family)
The wild Japanese flowering cherry is a deciduous tree with alternate, narrowly oval, acuminate (pointy tipped) leaves 2-5 in (5-10 cm) long and 1-2.5 in (2.5-6 cm) wide. The leaves are serrate (toothed) or doubly serrate on the margins, and start out reddish, mature to shiny dark green, and finally turn bronze to rusty brown before dropping in autumn. Japanese flowering cherry is sparsely branched, with branchlets that tend to spread straight out. It develops a dense crown with age and the wild species can get as much as 60 ft (20 m) tall, but most cultivars are much smaller, usually around 20-26 ft (6-8 m) in both height and spread. The bark is glossy chestnut brown and smooth, but adorned with numerous horizontal lenticels, which are narrow corky looking ridges that in fact are pores which permit oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through the bark.
The cup shaped flowers open in late winter or very early spring, usually along with, or a little before, the leaves. They range from white to pink and 0.5 to 2.5 in (1.25-6.25 cm) across. Flowers are borne abundantly along the stems singly or in clusters of 2-4, and tend to be relatively long lasting. Some cultivars have double flowers, and some are fragrant. Most of the cultivars rarely produce fruits, but the wild form (and the occasional cultivar) bear black, pea-sized sour cherries.
There are several botanical varieties and dozens of horticultural cultivars. Many of the named cultivars are actually hybrids between various Prunus serrulata varieties and/or other Prunus species. Nowadays real botanists refer to the cultivars of Japanese flowering cherry as members of the Prunus Sato-zakura Group, but some of us still call them Prunus serrulata cultivars.
The cultivar, ‘Sekiyama’ (aka 'Kwanzan' or 'Kanzan'), has large (2.5 in; 6.25 cm) double pink flowers, and is one of the most popular and most cold hardy. 'Snow Goose' has single white flowers and an erect habit, becoming rather wide-spreading with age, and reaching a height and spread of up to 20 feet (6 m). 'Amanogawa' is tall and slender with semi-double, light pink flowers. 'Taihaku' (aka great white cherry), has large white flowers to 2.5 in (6.25 cm) across and leaves to 8 in (20 cm) long. ‘Pendula’ is a weeping form with white flowers. ‘Takasago’ (aka Naden cherry) has bright pink semi-double flowers and pubescent leaves. ‘Shirotae’ (aka ‘Mt. Fuji’) has pure white flowers that are fragrant, and does well in warmer areas.
Prunus serrulata is native to China, Korea and Japan. The many cultivars of the Prunus Sato-zakura group are largely of Japanese origin.
Light: Full sun is best. Moisture: A normal watering regime is good. The Japanese flowering cherries like it a little on the moist side as long as the soil does not remain water logged. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8. Propagation: Many of the cultivars like it cool, and are not reliable in zones 7 and 8. Others cannot tolerate the cold of zone 5.
Most cultivars of Japanese flowering cherry are difficult to start from cuttings, and usually are grafted onto rootstocks of other cherry species, particularly the sweet cherry (Prunus avium) which is native to Europe and western Asia.
Japanese flowering cherry is one of the most beautiful of all flowering trees. They are used in parks, along avenues, in masses, and as specimen trees in all kinds of landscapes. Although they tend to be short lived, Japanese flowering cherries are well worth a place in any landscape.
Japanese flowering cherries are the stars of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. The original trees were a gift from the city of Tokyo to Washington in 1912. A few years later, the U.S. reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) trees to the Japanese. Some of the D.C. trees were destroyed by persons unknown a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and people began calling the remaining trees “oriental cherry”.
Steve Christman 1/11/15