125 new cherry trees are being planted in the Royal Parks this autumn, a gift from Japan as part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20. Here are ten facts you might not know about the new arrivals.
1. Not all cherry trees bear fruit
Flowering cherry trees in the Avenue Gardens, The Regent's Park © elensham.com
In fact many ornamental varieties have been bred to produce more flowers and, in some cases, don’t produce fruit at all. Most of the flowering cherry trees we see in UK parks and streets are valued for their flowers, with the cherries they produce small and bitter – not great for people but a good snack for the birds.
2. You can eat the blossom
Blossom in Greenwich Park, a popular spring viewing spot. Image: @shadz_ig on IG
That’s right, the cherry blossoms (and leaves) of varieties we find in the UK are edible. In Japan they’re pickled and used as ingredients for sweets, baking and tea. Come springtime you’ll also find sakura-flavoured chocolate bars. Don’t eat cherry pips though, they’re toxic and can be dangerous in large amounts.
3. Cherry trees are found around the world
Cherry trees in Washington. 3,000 were gifted to the city by the major of Tokyo in 1912
There are flowering cherry trees in countries across the globe, including America, Korea, Brazil and India, with many originating through links with Japan. The UK’s cherry tree population is set to rise as another 6,500 new trees are being planted across the UK as part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20, gifts from Japan to celebrate the relationship between the two countries.
4. Not all cherry blossom is pink
White blossom in full bloom in The Regent's Park. Image: Xuewei Loy
While pink is the colour most people associate with cherry blossom, it tends to change from dark pink, to light pink, to white when fully in bloom. Some varieties even begin as a greenish yellow colour before changing to white and then to pink.
5. Blossoms are here one day, gone the next
Cherry trees generally tend to bloom for only a week or two each spring. This could be even shorter if seasonal wind or rain knocks the blossoms from the trees. In the Royal Parks the parakeets are fond of the blossom as a tasty treat. It’s one of the things that makes the cherry blossom so special – catch it while you can because it won’t be around for long.
6. Cherry trees don't live long
The Jindai Zakura in Yamanashi Precture, Japan
Across all varieties cherry trees tend to have a short lifespan, typically around 15-30 years. However black cherry trees can live for anything up to 250 years. The oldest known cherry tree is the famous Jindai Zakura in Japan – still flowering every spring an estimated 2,000 years since it was planted.
7. An Englishman saved one of Japan’s favourite cherry trees
Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram at his home in southeast England, courtesy of the Ingram family
Collingwood “Cherry” Ingram was an expert gardener with a passion for flowering cherry trees. While on a trip to Japan in 1926 he was shown a painting of a beautiful cherry tree with white blossom, believed to have died out in Japan. Ingram recalled having taken cuttings from a tree of the same species in a garden in Sussex and managed to reintroduce the Great White Cherry, or Taihaku, to Japan. Five Great White Cherry trees will be planted in The Regent's Park for the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20.
8. The cherry blossom capital of the world...
The annual cherry blossom festival in Macon, Georgia, USA. Image: Glenn Grossman
...is not in Japan. It's in a town called Macon in the state of Georgia, America. In 1952 a local resident discovered one Yoshino cherry tree and loved it so much that he learned to propogate the trees and gifted them to his community. Macon now has over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees flowering at their annual blossom festival.
9. Cherry blossoms are an iconic part of spring
A family gathering to celebrate the blossom on their Tokyo street © Johan Brooks
In the Royal Parks in London, cherry trees are up there with ducklings and daffodils as the most Insta-worthy spring scenes around. In Japan there’s nothing that compares to the seasonal wave of pink and white that sweeps from the south to the north of the country each year. People gather under the blossoms to share food and drink for hanami, a centuries-old flower viewing tradition.
10. They symbolise more than just a new season
A flowering cherry tree outside a Japanese junior high school
In Japan many schools and businesses have a cherry tree in front of their building. The financial year and the school year both start in April, with the blooming trees a symbol of renewal and a fresh start. In public parks people gather under the branches, eating and drinking, appreciating the fleeting beauty of life with friends and family. The short-lived hanami celebrations are a reminder to seize the day.