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Japan in Bloom: Japanese Plum Blossoms - Sakura's Winter Cousins

Japan in Bloom: Japanese Plum Blossoms - Sakura's Winter Cousins

Date published: 10 February 2017
Last updated: 5 January 2019

One of the first and most exciting signs of spring in Japan are the blossoming of flowers. While sakura may receive the brightest spotlight during this season, plum blossoms are arguably every bit as lovely. And since Japanese plum blossoms bloom in February, they offer a perfect preview of flower season!

Called ‘baika’ in Japanese, plum blossoms can easily be mistaken for sakura. However there are some differences that can help to distinguish these two equally beautiful flowers. Join as we share when and where to catch plum blossoms around Tokyo!

Plum Trees in Japan

Plum Trees in Japan

Not to be confused with the fruit known as ‘plum’ in English, ‘ume,’ the plums found in Japan, come from an Asian tree species called ‘Prunus mume.’ It is also known as the Chinese plum, or Japanese apricot. In fact, it is very closely related to the apricot. The appearance of baika in late winter signals the changing of seasons, and a sign that warmer weather is on its way.

Japanese plum trees are not only famed for their flowers, but their fruit is known as ‘ume.’ These plums are known for their sour flavor and are often pickled into ‘umeboshi’ to be used in various dishes, or made into a popular liqueur called ‘ume-shu,’ which is sometimes referred to as ‘plum wine’ in the west.

What do Japanese plum blossoms look like?

What do Japanese plum blossoms look like?
Plum blossoms. Note the reddish color of the bud.

These are some of the distinguishing characteristics of plum trees and blossoms.

・Blooming period: Early February to mid-March
・Color: The blossoms can be seen in varying shades of white, pink, and red.
・Flower size: 2-2.5 cm in diameter.
・Buds: Just one flower will blossom from a single round bud.
・Tree bark: Dark in color.
・Fragrance: A strong, sweet aroma.
・Flower shape: Umbrella-shaped flower with rounded petal tips
・Blossom position: Flowers stick up directly from the branches.
・Leaves: Reddish-purple

Plum blossom. Note the reddish color of the bud and lack of notch in petal.

Where to see plum blossoms in Japan

Normally occurring in February and March, a couple of locations for seeing ume blossoms is Kairakuen (Ibaraki Prefecture - Mito Station, JR Joban Line), Yushima Tenjin Shrine (Tokyo – Yushima Station) and Atami Plum Garden (Atami - JR Kinomiya Station).

6 Ways to Tell the Difference Between Plum and Cherry Blossoms

6 Ways to Tell the Difference Between Plum and Cherry Blossoms
Plum and Sakura: Note the characteristic notch in the petal on the right

To the untrained eye, it can be quite easy to mistake baika for sakura. Once you understand a few of the major differences, however, there should be little difficulty distinguishing between the two flowers.

1. Timing: The first difference between the two is the time of flowering; plum blossoms typically appear before cherry blossoms, although there may be some overlap. The first baika can be seen as early as February, while sakura usually blooms later on in the spring season.

2. Petals: One of the easiest ways to tell the two flowers apart is by their petals. Cherry blossoms are known to have a split at each petal tip, while plum blossoms always have a rounded petal tip.

3. Buds: A single bud from a cherry tree can have multiple flowers grow from it. A plum blossom bud will only have a single flower. The shape of the buds as different as well; sakura buds are oval-shaped and baika buds are round.

4. Bark: The bark of cherry trees are typically light grey, with horizontal lines called lenticels. Plum trees, which lack lenticels, are typically a much darker brown color.

5. Tree Shape: When viewed from a distance, plum trees tend to have somewhat of an oval shape, while cherry trees will have more of an umbrella shape.

6. Fragrance: Plum blossoms have a stronger, sweeter scent. Sakura, on the other hand, has a sweet, but much fainter aroma.

Sakura. Note the characteristic notch in the petal and the longer green stem
Beautiful, aromatic plum blossoms

With these points in mind, you can enjoy the beauty of both flowers, and have an even greater appreciation for baika, the underrated star of Japan’s ‘hanami’ (flower viewing) season!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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