Tounge-in-cheek title aside (we all know the columnar ones are Ama-no-gawa!), there’s a rich history to the Japanese cherries. In fact, there are books exclusively focussed on them, and one of them is the source for this day’s sourced post.
Ultimately, Japanese cherries can be found within the forests of their homeland, as well as in cultivation (where many hundreds of cultivars exist). Talking specifically about the cultivated cherries, some may be only one individual strong – the author here alleges that such cultivars hardly deserve to be called as such. Others, such as Prunus x subhirtella, are well-known and abundant, and have a clear standing within the classification system.
Perhaps confusion over exactly which Japanese cherries are which is because the ‘classification system’ is not really one. As many cultivars now used were historically found only in gardens within Japan, and known as sato-zakura (meaning “village-cherries”), there is no ‘formal’ means of classification for these cultivars. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that documentation of Japanese cherries in the English language is not abundant (or at least wasn’t at the time this book was written). Two common forms of sato-zakura are, of course, ‘Kanzan‘ and ‘Ama-no-gawa‘.
So what are the parents of all these cultivars? Simple… (sort of)! The author does a good job here, if I am honest, and suggests that the three forms of Prunus serrulata (var. spontanea, var. speciosa, and var. pubescens), as well as Prunus apetala, and Prunus pseudo-cerasus, make up the main parental range. The situation really isn’t aided, however, by the fact that the sato-zakura ‘system’ lacks any discernible breeding history. Despite this, it is considered that most semi-double flowered forms have Prunus serrulata var. speciosa as a parent.
The Flower Association of Japan, in 1982, did manage to collate the hundreds of cultivars into one publication, and ended up describing roughly 200 cultivars. A book entitled Nihon no Sakura, soon after (in 1993) and authored by T. Kawasaki, attempted to classify around 350 different cultivars into family ‘trees’, and to this day has only been published in Japanese. However, these publications did not seek to remedy the endless abyss of confusion regarding identification in the West.
This post has probably cleared up none of the confusion, and probably instead added to the anxiety we all experience when looking at a Japanese cherry cultivar. I guess that’s all part of the fun…
Source: Kuitert, W. & Peterse, A. (1999) Japanese Flowering Cherries. Hong Kong: Timber Press.
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2 thoughts on “Japanese “it must be a kanzan” Cherries”
Confused? Yes….however less so and Japan during cherry flowering season its still on my list of places to see.
I’ll admit I’m not entirely dumbfounded by Japanese cherries, though they are a difficult set of cultivars to identify – typically I’d always put down Prunus serrulata ssp., though that isn’t entirely correct having read what this author states. I wrote this in a more light-hearted manner, in place of the recently very ‘heavy’ Fomes one. No question that going to Japan to see the blossom, which they even have festivals for, is on my list of sites to see as well. Thanks for the comment!