Crowds enjoying trees in bloom in Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park

Ten things you might not know about cherry trees

The different varieties of cherry trees around the Royal Parks are some of the most popular sights in London each spring. 

These were added to in autumn 2019 when 25 new cherry trees were planted in the Royal Parks, a gift from Japan as part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20. With spring 2024 set to feature some amazing displays of colour, here are ten facts you might not know about the spectacular trees.

1. Not all cherry trees bear fruit

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.

Flowering cherry trees in the Avenue Gardens
© elensham.com
Flowering cherry trees in the Avenue Gardens, The Regent's Park

2. You can eat the blossom

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 - and please don't pick the blossom from the trees in the Royal Parks!
 

Greenwich Park's trees in full spring blossom
Blossom in Greenwich Park, a popular spring viewing spot usually at its peak from late April to early May.

3. Cherry trees are found around the world

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 rose in the last few years as another 6,500 new trees were 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.

Cherry trees in Washington. Three thousand trees were gifted to the city by the major of Tokyo in 1912.
© rawpixel.com
Cherry trees in Washington. Three thousand were gifted to the city by the major of Tokyo in 1912

4. Not all cherry blossom is pink

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.

White blossom in full bloom in The Regent's Park.
© Xuewei Loy
White blossom in full bloom in The Regent's Park

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 and other birds 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.

Parrot in a cherry tree
A parakeet in a cherry tree

6. Cherry trees don't live long

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.

The Jindai Zakura in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.
© Skyseeker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Jindai Zakura in Yamanashi Precture, Japan

7. An Englishman saved one of Japan’s favourite cherry trees

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.

Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram at his home in southeast England
© courtesy of the Ingram family
Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram at his home in southeast England

8. The cherry blossom capital of the world 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.

The annual cherry blossom festival in Macon, Georgia, USA.
© Glenn Grossman
The annual cherry blossom festival in Macon, Georgia, USA

9. Cherry blossoms bring people together each spring

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 theseasonal wave of pink and white that sweeps from the south to the north of the country is arguably the highlight of the year. People gather under the blossoms to share food and drink for hanami, a centuries-old flower viewing tradition. It's something that has also become popular in some of London's parks in recent years.

Crowds enjoying the blooming cherry trees in Greenwich Park
Crowds enjoying flowering cherry trees in Greenwich Park

10. They symbolise more than just a new season

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.

A flowering cherry tree outside a Japanese junior high school.
A flowering cherry tree outside a Japanese junior high school

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