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Cherry trees in bloom

Kew's cherry blossom lifts the soul and gladdens the heart

Cherry blossom at Kew (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

The Japanese tradition of celebrating hanami, or 'viewing the flowers', can be traced back to the 5th century. Between mid January to early May the ornamental cherries bloom all over Japan and people gather to have parties beneath the blossom. Every year the blossom forecast is announced nightly as the trees bloom first in the southern island of Okinawa, then travel on to Kyoto and Tokyo before arriving in Hokkaido in the north a few weeks later. In Japan cherry blossoms symbolise clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. They are also a good reason for a party!

In the wild in Japan they are known as yama-zakura or mountain cherries. Garden cherries are hybrids and are known as sato-zakura - the most widely planted in Japan is Prunus x yedoensis which is regarded as the original sato-zakura. There are hundreds of named forms of Japanese garden cherries and they can be grouped according to their flower structure. If the bloom has 5-8 petals, they're classed as single flowered. 10-20 are semi-double, 25-50 are double flowered and the final group is chrysanthemum flowered, and these generally have more than 100 petals. See if you can count the petals on some of Kew's cherries.

Here at Kew, Cherry Walk is looking particularly ravishing this week. First planted in 1909 between the Palm House and King William's Temple, it was extended in 1935 to the Temperate House. The storms of 1987 and 1990 together with disease meant that many of the original trees had to be removed and Cherry Walk was replanted between 1993 and 1996, supported by the Sakura Bank of Japan.

The cultivar 'Hatazakura' at Kew

Things to look out for

A selection of cultivars is planted on the either side of the path leading from the rose garden to King William's Temple, and there's an older collection to the left. They include 'Hatazakura', a cultivar with white single flowers that originated from a tree grown in the Hakusan Shrine in Tokyo. 'Kanzan' is a popular and widely grown form and has pink double flowers, and here you will also find 'Tai Haku' or the great white cherry, which originated in Japan but was propagated and saved from extinction by cherry expert Collingwood 'Cherry' Ingram in the early 1900s.

A stunning avenue of chrysanthemum-flowered 'Asano' has been planted between King William's Temple and the Temperate House, a truly impressive sight in full bloom.

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11 January 2011
They really are beautiful. Very delicate looking flowers.
24 April 2010
These are beautiful. I just loved the sense of tradition and reverence for this annual flowering.