Recently, the Buddhist temple Yakushi-ji in Nara, Japan posted this update on their Twitter feed:
When most people think of Japan, they think of cherry blossoms, specifically sakura (桜) cherry blossoms. However, while cherry blossoms usually appear sometime between March to May depending on climate, variety, etc, another famous flowering tree blooms slightly eariler: umé (梅) or plum blossoms.
Japanese plum trees are not the same as Westerns trees and some would say the fruit is closer to an apricot than a plum as we know it. In any case, ume trees have been a part of Japanese culture for a long time, and celebrated since antiquity.
For example, the famous scholar later deified into the God of Learning, Sugawara no Michizane (菅原 道真 845 – 903), was a big fan of plum trees. When he was exiled to Dazaifu due to political intrigue, he composed a famous poem about his plum back home in his yard:
|東風吹かば||Kochi fukaba||When the east wind blows,|
|にほひをこせよ||Nioi okose yo||let it send your fragrance,|
|梅の花||Ume no hana||oh plum blossoms.|
|主なしとて||Aruji nashi tote||Although your master is gone,|
|春を忘るな||Haru o wasuru na||do not forget the spring.|
Plum blossoms differ in appearance than sakura cherry blossoms in a few ways: plum blossoms tend to be whiter in color, though shades of pink do exist. While they both have 5 petals, the plum blossoms have rounded edges, while the cherry blossoms are notched and a bit pointier:
The current Italian Plum tree is actually the second generation. The previous tree had grown in our yard for years, and bore lots of fruit every September, but during a famously bad snow storm in 2019 here in the PNW, it grew heavy and fell over. Amazingly, one of the seeds must’ve taken root before than as we have new tree growing not far from it.
I once had 3 Thundercloud Plum trees but one fell over into a neighbor’s yard after a prolonged rain storm, plus it had become too overgrown (my fault) and top-heavy. I have learned since that Thundercloud Plum trees grow fast and need to be trimmed about every 2-3 years otherwise they make a huge mess and run the risk of falling over.
There have been times where I’d like to cut down the Thundercloud Plum trees because of the maintenance (plus the mess of rotting, fermented plums in fall), but when they bloom for that one week in late February, I feel like Sugawara no Michizane admiring the tree and looking forward to Spring.