Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Cherry Blossom : The different kinds

Japan's cherry blossoms or Sakura, need no introduction. This year was our fourth cherry blossom season in Japan and as always, this time too we had our own hanami trips and hanami parties. Having moved to Nagoya last year, this was our first cherry blossom in central Japan. We visited Okazaki Castle, near Nagoya , a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and also visited some popular places in Nagoya. This time, I am not going into the details of how people in Japan enjoy Cherry Blossom season and what is so special about this season since I have written about it earlier. This time, I am going to write about the various types of Cherry Blossoms, that make this season special. 

Cherry Blossom or Sakura is the most famous of the blossoms that herald the arrival of spring. I was surprised to learn that there are over a hundred varieties of cherry trees - both wild and cultivated. The varieties differ in many characteristics - colour, number of petals, flowering period. etc.  Most cherry blossoms have 5 petals but some varieties can have up to 100 petals. The cherry blossom varieties with more than 5 petals are classified as Yaezakura. 

The most popular and common variety of Cherry Trees is the Yoshino Cherry Tree.
Blossoms of this tree have 5 petals and are mainly white with a tinge of pink. The leaves of these trees do not appear till the flowers begin to fall off. Huddled together in bunches, these blossoms are especially spectacular during their peak blooming period.
The reason for the large number of Yoshino Cherry trees can be attributed to its large scale cultivation during the Edo Period.

While Yoshino Cherry Trees are the most commonly cultivated cherry trees, the Yamazakura Cherry Tree is the most common wildly growing cherry tree.
 Their appearance is slightly similar to the Yoshino Cherry tree but the petals are slightly smaller and the pinkish tinge is slightly darker. Another aspect in which it differs from the Yoshino cherry tree is that its leaves appear around the same time as the blossoms.

Another spectacular variety of Cherry Blossom is the Shidarezakura Cherry Tree, referred to in English as the Weeping Cherry tree. 
These trees have drooping branches and people are especially fond of these cherry trees, thanks to their spectacular appearance.
 Most Shidarezakura trees have blossoms with five petals. Shidarezakura trees having more than five petals are called Yaeshidarezakura.  The blooming period of both these varieties differ from each other. One of Japan's most famous Cherry trees, the Takizakura of Miharu in Fukushima Prefecture is a Shidarezakura tree.

The earliest blooming cherry trees are mostly the Kanzakura cherry trees. 
These are relatively less common and can be seen only in small neighbourhood parks or in private gardens. Usually when the bloom,  people regard it as the arrival of spring.

Another early flowering Cherry tree is the Kawazuzakura Cherry Tree.
The flowers are usually pink in colour and have 5 petals. Like the Kanzakura cherry trees, these too are relatively less common and can be found mainly in public parks. These trees get their name from the Kawazu town in Izu Peninsula where they are said to have originated and are still commonly found there. 

Another not so common variety of Cherry tree is the Kanhizakura Cherry Tree.
Mostly found in tropical climates, these cherry trees are more common in Okinawa in southern Japan and said to be native to Taiwan. These too bloom early and have dark pink to red bell shaped flowers.

One of the most common Yaezakura cherry trees is the Kanzan Cherry Tree.
These blossoms are usually light pink in colour and can have up to 30-50 petals. The leaves begin to appear before the blossoms fall off. 

The Fugenzo Cherry Tree is another yaezakura cherry tree with flowers similar in appearance to those of the Kanzan cherry tree. 
These flowers too have 30-40 petals, however the flowers are almost white when they blossom and gradually turn pink to dark pink as they mature. This is a late blooming variety of sakura.

Another late blooming variety is the Ichiyo Cherry tree. 
These light pink flowers are smaller and have about 20-30 petals.    

Kikuzakura Cherry Trees have by far the most different looking variety of cherry blossoms.
With over 100 petals, these cherry blossoms actually resemble the chrysanthemum flowers. 
The flowers and leaves of these trees appear almost around the same time. 

But Cherry blossoms are not limited to only spring. There is another variety of cherry blossoms, the Jugatsuzakura,  which blooms in Autumn.
The name literally means October cherry, in reference to their blooming time. The flowers are small and only a few flowers appear on a tree. 

The yellowish coloured flowers with 10-20 petals belong to the Ukon Cherry Tree. These too are a late blooming variety.

Another late blooming variety is the Shogetsu Cherry Tree. Its flowers are white and have about 20-30 petals.

Some varieties of Cherry Blossoms are white when they begin to bloom and turn pink later. 

Trees like the one in the above picture are a common sight. the lower branches are covered with white coloured blossoms while the upper branches are covered with dark pink blossoms.

The blooming period of Cherry blossoms differs from region to region. The first blossoms appear in southernmost Japan's Kyushu as early as late January moving gradually to Hokkaido in northern Japan towards mid May. The blossom season is also very short lasting just a few days or at most a week long. Rain and winds also play a big role in how long the blossoms will last ! 

When blossoms first appear, they are referred to as "Kaika" while the full bloom is referred to as "Mankai". Some other words that are used when referring to blossom viewing are "Tsubomi" meaning the blossoms are still in the bud stage and have not yet opened up while "Migoro" is when the blossoms are at their best viewing time. 


  1. Very informative post. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Thank you ! Glad to hear the feedback