Types of Japanese Cherry Trees

Written by jacob j. wright
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Types of Japanese Cherry Trees
A Japanese flowering cherry in full mid-spring glory (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Sometimes called Oriental cherry, the Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata) epitomises the aged silhouette and profuse white or pink flowers of spring that fine ornamental flowering trees should look like. Not tolerant of alkaline soils or hot summers, most Japanese flowering cherry trees begin to look tired and sickly after 10 to 15 years in the garden. Multiple insect and viral pests cause decline in the trees so that they never get much taller than 20 to 25 feet, although in eastern Asia wild trees easily mature 50 to 70 feet tall.

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Cultivars

In American gardens, seven cultivars grow frequently or are readily available at nurseries in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5b through 8a. They are known by their original Japanese variety names in addition to anglicised ones. "Kwanzan" bears double-form rosy pink flowers, and may be also called "Kanzan" or "Sekiyama" on labels or in literature. "Royal Burgundy" looks just like the "Kwanzan" except its leaves mature reddish purple. "Amanogawa" also develops double pink blossoms but on an extremely narrow tree. "Shogetsu" or "Shimidsu" has double flowers that look white or palest pink. "Shirotae," also known as "Mt. Fuji," displays pink buds that open white. "Shirofugen" blossoms each contain about 30 petals. The buds are pink but open white and then age again to pink. "Snowgoose" bears white blossoms and seems to tolerate the summertime heat of the American South, according to the University of Connecticut.

Landscape Uses

The cultivars of Japanese flowering cherry make attractive small flowering or shade trees for parks and home yards. All except "Amanogawa" mature to have a rounded or vase-shaped canopy with a relatively flat top and spreading branches. These trees look sensational in full flower in mid-spring and also find landscape designers using them as street trees, in groves or in long allee plantings. Various Japanese flowering cherries grow alongside the earlier blooming Yoshino cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

Additional Ornamental Features

While the flowers steal the show, the foliage of Japanese flowering cherries warrant attention and admiration. Just before the flower buds open, the newly emerging leaves often range in colour from light bright green to pale bronze-green. In autumn, the trees consistently develop orange-red foliage before dropping away.

Other Species Native to Japan

The common name Japanese flowering cherry always refers to species Prunus subhirtella. However, a few other spring flowering cherry trees hail from Japan and are widely grown in gardens across the temperate United States. Sargent cherry (Prunus sargentii), Higan cherry (Prunus subhirtella), bell-flowered cherry (Prunus campanulata) and the hybrid Yoshino cherry all have origins across parts of the Land of the Rising Sun. Each of these cherry tree species include numerous cultivars with varying tree forms, mature sizes and flower attributes.

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