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Japanese Cherry Prunus serrulata

Phonetic Spelling
PROO-nus ser-u-LA-ta
Description

The Japanese flowering cherry tree is a small to medium-sized flowering tree that has spectacular spring flowers. It grows 15 to 25 feet tall and equally as wide with variable habits. This tree is a popular ornamental in its native countries and in portions of the United States. The profuse and showy white blooms herald the advent of spring. The leaves are ovate to lanceolate and dark green. Small, round, pea-size fruits appear in the late summer. This iconic flowering tree is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family.

This tree is native to East and South China, Japan, and Korea. Cherry blossoms are the national flower of Japan and symbolize life, good health, and happiness. 

The genus name, Prunus, is derived from the Latin word meaning plum or cherry tree. The epithet, serrulata, means saw-like teeth and likely references the serrated leaves of this species.

The Japanese cherry tree flowers best in full sun and prefers moist, well-drained, loamy soils. Provide good air circulation to reduce the risk of disease. This tree does not tolerate poorly drained soils.

This tree is usually short-lived and average life span is 15 to 20 years. There are many cultivars available with bloom colors ranging from white, pale pink, pink and deep pink, and the flowers may be single, semi-double, or double. Young leaves may be bronze or purplish in color. Depending on the cultivar, the habit maybe variable from wide spreading, vase-shaped, or weeping. Most of the cultivars do not bear fruit. 

For spectacular showy flowers in the spring consider this tree for the home landscape as a specimen, groupings, or street tree. While the species may be difficult to find commercially, there are many beautiful cultivars that are very popular. The cultivar, 'Kanzan,' is upright, vase-shaped, and has clusters of pink double flowers. Each blossom is packed with 20 to 30 petals. Planting any of the selections of the cultivars will truly make your garden a show stopper in the spring. 

Be aware that the leaves, stems, and seeds are toxic to cat, dogs, and horses.

Seasons of Interest:

Blooms:  Spring       Foliage:  Spring, Summer, and Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • small to medium sized flowering tree, vase-shaped, spreading horizontal crown
  • bark, thin, smooth, reddish-brown, glossy with prominent horizontal lenticels
  • stems are reddish-brown with lenticels and large buds
  • leaves are alternate, simple, lanceolate to ovate, serrated margins, dark green on the upper surface and light green beneath
  • showy double white flowers, cluster of 3 to 5 blooms from mid March to May
  • small, round, black, fleshy drupes in the late summer

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The Japanese flowering cherry is susceptible to many insect pests and diseases. Insects pests include aphids, borers, scales, spider mites, leafhoppers, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and tent caterpillars. Possible diseases include dieback, leaf curl, root rot, fire blight, leaf spot, twig cankers, black knot, galls, and powdery mildew. The trunk of the tree is  prone to splitting. The tree bark is thin and is easily damaged. It can be a short lived tree.

VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Reynolda Palm House and Gardens Border Garden, Upcycled
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Kanzan', 'Kwanzan', 'Mt Fuji', 'Royal Burgundy', 'Shiro-fugen', 'Shogetsu', 'Ukon'
Tags:
#cultivars#showy flowers#deciduous#interesting bark#specimen#white flowers#wildlife plant#pink flowers#spring flowers#fall interest#food source wildlife#cpp#deer resistant#showstopper#weak wood#spring interest#pollinator plant#vase-shaped#larval host plant#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Kanzan', 'Kwanzan', 'Mt Fuji', 'Royal Burgundy', 'Shiro-fugen', 'Shogetsu', 'Ukon'
Tags:
#cultivars#showy flowers#deciduous#interesting bark#specimen#white flowers#wildlife plant#pink flowers#spring flowers#fall interest#food source wildlife#cpp#deer resistant#showstopper#weak wood#spring interest#pollinator plant#vase-shaped#larval host plant#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Prunus
    Species:
    serrulata
    Family:
    Roseaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Japan, China, Korea
    Distribution:
    Native: China, Japan, and Korea. Introduced: New Zealand and the United States
    Wildlife Value:
    This is a larval host plant to Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). You may see three flights from February-November in the deep south and two flights from May-September in the north. Birds relish the fruits, though they are not plentiful.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Horizontal
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Vase
    Weeping
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is an inconspicuous, small, round, fleshy black drupe and appear in late summer.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are white, double, clusters of 3 to 5 blooms, and each bloom measures. 1.5 inches wide. They typically bloom in late March to April. Pedicels are up to 1.5 inches long. The bloom color varies from pale pink, pink, or deep pink and may be double or semi-double depending on the cultivar.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate, simple, 2 to 5 inches long, 1.25 to 2 inches wide, ovate to lanceolate with serrate margins They have a cuneate to rounded base and acuminate apex. Petioles have 2 to 4 glands. The new growth of leaves are red and bronze. The summer leaf color is dark green on the upper surface and a paler green beneath. In the fall the foliage is reddish to yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Lenticels
    Bark Description:
    Red brown to gray mahogany bark with horizontal lenticels that make it easy to identify. The bark is thin and easily damaged.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    The twigs are reddish-brown with lenticels, and have a medium thickness. The buds are large.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Lawn
    Patio
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Asian Garden
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Flowering Tree
    Mass Planting
    Specimen
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Problems:
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
    Short-lived
    Weak Wood