Japanese name for depicting this group: SAKURA
Habitat: mountain area
Height: 3-20m Blooming season: March-May
Types of sakura:
Prunus yamasakura: Japanese name is YAMAZAKURA (mountain cherries); most popular species in Japan. Often seen in mountainous areas. Red leaves sprout at the same time as pinkish white flowers. Leaves become red again in autumn. In the 1700s that Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune, “to please urban commoners who lived in crowded housing [in Edo, now Tokyo]…ordered mass plantings of yamazakura [cherry trees] on the riversides and hills along the city’s perimeter. A new fashion, hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, soon followed–an infatuation that continues today.”
Prunus pendula: Japanese name is EDOHIGAN; leaves sprout after its pinkish white flower blooms. It blooms earlier than other species.
Prunus lannesiana: Japanese name is OOSHIMAZAKURA; green leaves sprout at the same time with white flowers. Its leaves are utilized as Japanese sweets.
Prunus sargentii: Japanese name is OYAMAZAKURA; red leaves sprout at the same time as pink flowers.
Prunus incisa: Japanese name is MAMEZAKURA. Small tree, the height is 3-8m. Leaves and flowers are small too.
Prunus campanulata: Japanese name is HIGANZAKURA; pendulous red flowers bloom in January-March. This is a Chinese cultivar.
Popular cultivars are:
SOMEIYOSHINO: cultivar bred by Prunus pendula x Prunus lannesiana. This is a most popular cultivar, planted in parks and house gardens all over Japan.
SHIDAREZAKURA: cultivar of Prunus pendula; its branches hang down and show flowers like a cascade.
桜 or 櫻 or さくらis the name for cherry ornamental trees (prunus serrulata).
Cherry fruit (known as sakuranbo) come from a different species of tree.
Sakura is indigenous to the East Asia and Himalayas. Some trees can be found in China and Korea but the largest number and variety of sakura, more than 305 species, can be seen in Japan. Many of them were artificially hybridized or grafted by the Japanese many centuries ago. (In China, cherry blossoms are the symbol of feminine dominance, female beauty and sexuality – it also symbolizes love in the language of herbs.)
Japan’s favorite cherry blossom is the Somei Yoshino. Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. The flowers bloom, and usually fall within a week, before the leaves come out so the trees look nearly white from top to bottom. The variety takes its name from the village of Somei (now part of Toshima in Tokyo). It was developed in the mid- to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period. Other categories include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals. The shidarezakura, or weeping cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
Kawarazuzakura are early blooming sakura and are usually grown on the banks of canals and rivers. We have a several kilometer long canal that is banked by these trees.
Every morning at the end of morning national news, a considerable amount of time is set aside for the flower report, probably something unique to Japan. Annually, the Japanese Meteorological Agency and general public track the sakura zensen, or Cherry-Blossom Front as well as other flower blossom times for hanami-viewing(花見).
Most Japanese schools and public buildings have sakura trees outside of them. My sister will have her preschool graduation ceremony this coming Friday, maybe the sakura trees at her kindergarten will be blooming in time then.
The SA from SAKURA is a word leading to the 5. month of the old calender (satsuki) and KURA/GURA comes from KAGURA, the famous dances in Shinto Shrines. SAKURA means a holy dance in May to evoke a good harvest. Now the calendar has changed, but the tradition of flower viewing has stayed with us.
Since ancient times, farmers went out to see the wild cherry trees in the local forest to get a hint at when to start preparing the fields for the rice and how the harvest would be this year. After hanami it was time to tend to the wet rice fields. In many parts of my area, this is still done. In some neighbourhoods, after the hanami the farmers still look to the forest for special wild cherry trees to see if its time for working the fields. Since rice farming was essential for survival in the olden days, HANAMI was the most important festival leading to a good harvest.
The medieval monk called SAIGYO wrote the following poem:
“Could I die under a cherry blossom tree in full bloom
on a full-moon night of spring?”