I read in The Japan Times that the first cherry blossoms have bloomed today (March 21) in Tokyo.
Since the report came from the Japan Meteorological Agency, I assume that the trees that are blossoming are in fact cherry trees. But if the news story originated anywhere else I wouldn’t be so sure. A surprising number of people outside of Japan seem to assume that every pretty Japanese flower is automatically a cherry blossom.
It’s not true. Some of them are plum tree blossoms.
Cherry blossoms, or sakura, have five petals. Sakura petals are usually oval in shape, and they have a distinctive notch or indentation in their outside edge, which you can see in the example on the left. Cherry blossoms are usually pale pink or white.
Plum blossoms, or ume, also have five petals. But as you can see from the example on the right, their petal edges are rounded and don’t have a notch. The flowers of the apricot (apurikotto) tree have a similar shape. Plum blossoms are often dark pink, as shown here, but are sometimes white or light pink.
Even though they look very different, items decorated with plum blossoms are frequently described as having a cherry blossom motif. Maybe it’s because people automatically associate cherry blossoms with Japan. Even this hashioki, purchased by a friend at the official gift shop of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C., was labeled as a cherry blossom. Which I guess means that the people in the shop need to spend more time walking around the Potomac Tidal Basin when the cherry trees are in bloom. Because this isn’t a cherry blossom.
It’s a plum.