Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

Yoshino cherry (Prunus × yedoensis ‘Somei-yoshino’) stands out among all deciduous ornamental trees with its beautiful flowers, which blossoms before new leaves sprout in early spring. It’s sensational when clusters of cherry blossoms pop up on the branches every year, which last for about 2-3 weeks before quickly raining off to the ground.

The typical Yoshino cherry blooms in extremely pale pink and emits a slightly sweet, almond-like smell. A single tree could blossom with over a thousand flowers, and no matter you are viewing the flourishing blossoms or the falling petals, it’d impress you like a lush dream made of pinky clouds. There are also varieties with multi-layered petals among common gardening species, whose flowers are mainly in white or pink color schemes.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

These small trees are mostly 6-12 meters in height. There are also compact varieties that are only 4-5 meters tall, which are perfect for small gardens and make a nice scene next to a pavilion. The trees’ round tops not only ooze with Oriental appeal but also provide shades to the gardens, which is hard to come by. In summer, the broad-spreading branches, silky bark and dark-green leaves of Yoshino cherry trees contribute a sense of tranquility to the view of the gardens, yet their flowers and fruits lure butterflies and birds respectively, adding dynamics to a serene picture.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

If we must name a disadvantage of Yoshino cherry, probably only its life span is worth mentioning. As an ornamental tree, Yoshino cherry lives a relatively short life. Though there are a few ancient longevous exceptions, most Yoshino cherry trees live for only 15-20 years.

A Charming Origin

Yoshino Cherry’s origin had remained a mystery until recent years when analytical techniques of genetics probed into this area. Nowadays, botanists have finally traced the paternal origins of Yoshino cherry, claiming the hybrid to descend from Oshima cherry (P. speciosa) as the male parent and Edo higan cherry (P. pendula f. ascendens) as the female parent. Both the parent species are renowned ornamental plants; “Amagi-Yoshino”, another descendant variety from the same male and female parents in switched positions, is also a famous ornamental species.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

Amagi-Yoshino cherry

The only thing botanists haven’t reached a consensus on yet is Yoshino cherry’s hybridization process, whether it’s natural or intervened by men’s cultivation.

The Cherry Blossom Diplomacy between the US and Japan

Yoshino cherry originates from Japan and stands at the core of Japanese cultural symbols. How come there is a massive Cherry Blossom Festival every year in Washing, D.C., the American capital thousands of miles away from Japan? Where did those cherry trees come from?

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

In the early 20th Century, Japanese immigrants lived through a chain of unfair mistreatments like segregation and discrimination in the US, which caused a temporary tense relationship between the two nations. In 1909, then First Lady of America Helen Taft wished to introduce the beautiful cherry blossoms into the US, which her husband, President William Howard Taft, immediately recognized as an opportunity to improve the US-Japan relationship. Luckily, Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo at that time, also aimed to seize the chance and show friendship to the US. This opened doors to a series of discussions that made the plan of introducing cherry trees to the US possible and executable.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

The first batch of cherry seedlings to cross the Pacific and reach the US West Coast amounts to 2,000 plants. However, after landing in Seattle, quarantine inspectors found them infected with crown gall and carrying at least 9 invasive pests. This put an unfortunate early end to the “cherry blossom diplomacy”.

But President Taft soon sent another invitation and Mayor Yukio Ozaki shipped in another 3,020 seedlings of cherry trees. In March 1912, First Lady Taft, together with the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the US, planted those trees along the bank of the Tidal Basin, half of which were Yoshino cherry and the other half Kanzan cherry that bloom late. This act boosted the US-Japan relationship and helped it progress in the long run.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

Kanzan cherry blossoms with multi-layered petals

After WWII, Japan bestowed another 3,800 cherry trees upon the US in 1965 because the early batch’s life span was up. The young trees replaced their aging predecessors and become the pink colony we see today at D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

Can I grow Yoshino cherry well?

Yoshino cherry likes light, warm temperature, humidity, and fertilizing soil. Therefore, special care in the growing environment is important when planting it.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

To avoid frost damage, the best time to plant Yoshino cherry trees is in early spring, after frost season is over. In regards to location, in regions with frost damage, the airy northwestern slope is ideal where temperature rises slowly in spring. Be aware to stay away from windy areas. The trees need a 4-hour direct sunlight guarantee daily.

Insufficient light reduces blossom quantity, so keep in mind that plant orientation is also crucial. Yoshino cherry is not picky on soil type but prospers best in thick porous sandy loam with excellent breathability and water-retaining capability. It could tolerate drought, heat, and soak to a degree, but must be kept away from saline-alkali soil.

Yoshino Cherry: Transience of Life, Respect, and Rebirth

After successful planting, you can add some organic soil cover to protect Yoshino cherry’s shadow root system, which isn’t tolerant of stomping either, so special care is needed to keep the planting site away from being trampled on by livestock or rolling stock. Fertilizing once each winter with fermented organic manure and once after flower abscission with active acid fertilizers helps the trees bloom more next year.

Yoshino cherry is vulnerable to pests and diseases like caterpillars, leaf miners, bacterial cankers, blights, etc. Keeping the treetops airy with unblocked ventilation could reduce the chance of pests and diseases to some extent.

Size: 6-9 m (20-30 ft) in height, 6-9 m (20-30 ft) in the spread

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5-8

Sunlight: Full sun; partial shade

Soil: Moist and well-drained, slightly acidic, drought tolerant

Bloom time: early- to mid-spring