Unique Cherry Tree Varieties In Japan

The world-famous cherry tree comes in many different varieties all of which belong to the sakura family. In fact, there are over 200 different types of cherry trees in Japan.

The cherry blossom is famous all over the world and not only is it Japan’s national flower but it is admired by many different people who travel to see the cherry trees bloom in spring every year in Japan.

Chidorigafuchi park in Tokyo during sakura season in Japan

Because there is such a limited time frame to see the cherry blossoms there are usually crowds of people. So, if there is one type of tree that you want to see you can time your trip right to avoid the crowds and still witness nature’s miracle. 

The average bloom duration of Cherry (Sakura) trees in Tokyo is 7-14 days.

Cherry Trees in Osaka Castle Park in Bloom

However, what not many people know is that there are many different types of cherry trees and that the word “sakura” refers to the entire family of cherry trees and not to a specific variety. Each variety of cherry blossom will differ from the other varieties in its coloring, its location, and even the time of year that it blooms.

Over the years the majority of cherry trees have been cultivated for decorative use such as in Japanese gardens or parks. However, there are still a few wild varieties of cherry blossom in the forests in Japan.

General information about cherry trees

Although the different types of cherry trees will have their own particular traits they do all stem from the same family and so will have several traits in common. 

Cherry blossoms at the base of Skytree Tokyo

Petals and blossom structure

Most varieties of cherry trees will have flowers with five petals. However, there are some types of cherry blossom with more than five petals and these are known as “yaezakura”. These types of cherry blossom can even have over twenty petals.

Colors and hues

Just like the number of petals can differ so too can the colors of the cherry blossom. Most of the varieties of cherry blossom have white or light pink flowers and the chances are that these are the ones that you are most familiar with. 

Wanitsuka Sakura (a 300-year-old cherry tree) on a hill with snow-capped Mount Fuji

However, there are some varieties that have yellow flowers such as the ukon. Some petals even change color as they bloom and the most common change is from pure white color to pink.

Types of cherry tree

Here we will run through the various varieties of cherry trees to help you recognize and identify some of the more common types.

five-petal cherry (sakura) blossoms

This way you can get a better appreciation for the type of tree and impress your friends and family with your knowledge when you tour Japan to visit during cherry blossom season.

Somei yoshino

This type of cherry tree is one of the most commonly cultivated varieties in Japan and can be recognized thanks to its pale pink flowers that are made up of only five petals. These flowers bloom in late spring, typically toward the end of March and this can be even later going into May in the more northern regions of Japan.

The cherry blossoms appear in small clusters and they will bloom shortly before the leaves appear on the tree. This is a single flowering type of cherry tree.

Somei-Yoshino cherry blossom in Japan

Shidarezakura

Shidarezakura cherry tree is also commonly referred to as the Japanese weeping cherry tree due to the shape of its branches. The branches hang down toward the earth and look similar to those of a willow tree. The blossom of the shidarezakura is the official flower of the Kyoto prefecture in Japan. 

These blossoms are some of the earliest blooming flowers in the cherry tree family and on average they appear one week before those of the somei yoshino. 

A large weeping cherry tree with giant branches next to Kuon-ji Buddhist Temple in Minobu, Yamanashi, Japan

This particular cherry tree is recognized as one of the five main varieties and has been grown in Japan for over 1000 years. The most famous of this type of cherry tree is the Miharu Takizakura (also known as the Miharu Waterfall Cherry Tree) and is found in Fukushima. 

Yamazakura

The yamazakura is a type of wild cherry blossom and they are also known as “Hill cherry trees”. If you are in the more mountainous regions of Japan then you are likely to spot these trees dotted along the mountainside. 

This variety of cherry blossom also has just five petals on each flower and is slightly darker than the somei yoshino with their light pink coloring. 

Funaoka Sendai ่japan with a mountain tram for tourist viewing sakura

One of the main differences with the yamazakura is that the tree blossoms at the same time as it produces leaves. Most other varieties of sakura will blossom first before their leaves appear.

Edohigan

Another early blossoming cherry tree is the edohigan. In fact, these trees bloom at the same time as the spring equinox in Western Japan and this is where it gets its name. 

Like many other varieties of cherry blossom, its flowers are light pink in color but they can be distinguished from others by their swollen calyx.

Yamataka Jindai Sakura is a 2000-year-old cherry tree, Yamanashi, Japan

In fact, Japan’s oldest tree is this type of cherry tree and is called “Yamataka Jindai Sakura”. This tree is roughly 2000 years old and can be seen in the prefecture of Yamanashi.

Ichiyo

The ichiyo cherry blossom is one of the fullest cherry blossoms in Japan. This tree can easily be recognized by its incredibly full flowers which consist of anywhere between 20 and 40 petals. Once fully bloomed this flower has one pistil at its center that can be easily seen and this is where its name comes from.

The outer petals of the ichiyo are pale pink while the inner petals tend toward a white hue. These pale and delicate colors are then contrasted by the bright green leaves that surround them. 

In fact, in Asakusa, there is a festival held to honor the ichiyo every year. 

Kanzan

The kanzan flowers are a type of cherry blossom that is categorized as a double blossom. This means that the flowers have more than five petals. In fact, the kanzan cherry blossom can have up to 50 petals on each flower, making them particularly beautiful to look at due to their complexity.

These are one of the darker varieties of cherry blossom, appearing as deep pink color and blooming in bunches. The kanzan cherry blossom is one of the later blooming types of cherry blossom and it tends to be on show in Tokyo in late April. 

Ukon

Although most varieties of cherry blossom are pink or white in their coloring, the ukon cherry blossom appears more yellow in color, marking it apart from the rest. 

Pale yellow cherry blossoms of the Ukon type in Asukayama Park in Kita district, north of Tokyo

In Japanese “ukon” means Tumeric which is a spice used in Indian cooking that gives the food a distinctive yellow color. The ukon cherry blossom is also another type of double blossom flower but they typically have fewer petals and can number anywhere between 15 and 20 petals per flower.

The ukon can usually be spotted in Tokyo around the same time as the ichiyo and bloom in mid to late April.

Conclusion

There are many different varieties of cherry trees in Japan. Although there are over 200 different varieties it is not particularly well known that there are so many different types, with most people assuming that the most common version, the somei yoshino, is the only type. 

However, each type of cherry tree has its own unique blossom with each being just as beautiful as the next. You can find two main distinctive types of flowers: single blossom and double blossom. The single cherry blossom will have exactly five petals per flower whereas the double blossom refers to any cherry blossom that has more than five petals. Some can even have 50 petals. 

The vast majority of cherry tree blossoms will be found with either light pink or white flowers but there are some varieties that bloom yellow.

Some of the double blossom cherry tree flowers can even be found to have different colored petals with the inner petals lighter in color than those on the outside.

If you are looking to travel to Japan to see the cherry blossoms in person then you should make sure that you time your trip correctly. Cherry blossoms bloom in the spring but depending on the type of cherry tree they will blossom at different times.

Festivals Gardens and events for cherry (sakura) blossom viewing in Japan via Tripadvisor

So, if there is a particular type of cherry tree that you wish to see, for example, the 2000-year-old edohigan, then you will need to check the dates ahead of time. 

Cherry Blossom Forcast by Japan Meteorological Corporation’s cherry blossom forecast

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.