Not every pink flower in Japan is a cherry blossom.
Cherry blossoms are pretty easy to distinguish, aren’t they? Should you find yourself in a Japanese garden and see a tree covered in flowers with five petals and a pink color, those must be the fabled sakura right?
Well, not necessarily. See, Japan actually has multiple types of flowers that fit that description: cherry, plum, and peach blossoms. What’s more, even though their blossoming peaks come at different times, there’s a bit of overlap between when they can be seen in bloom. Plum blossoms come first (opening in mid-February), followed by peaches (mid-March) and then sakura (late March), but an unusually warm couple of days or sudden cold snap can shift their blooming patterns. As a result, sometimes it can be hard to tell which of the three flowers you’re looking at just based on the date.
That said, there are a couple of telltale characteristics that distinguish each of the three blossoms from the other two, and Twitter user @TECHNOuchi recently pointed out some of the easiest to spot.
梅・桃・桜 見分け方 https://t.co/utr6s5Tr1F—
(株) TECHNOuchi (@TECHNOuchi) April 09, 2016
The simplest method is to examine the shape of the individual petals. Plum blossom petals are evenly rounded, whereas peach petals are teardrop-shaped. Sakura, befitting their status as Japan’s favorite flower, have a cleft at the tip that gives them an elegant air (or makes them look like a female Pikachu).
▼ Plum (left), peach (center), and cherry (right)
However, the literally organic form of flower petals means that sometimes plum petals aren’t perfect circles, nor are the clefts on cherry blossoms always as sharply pronounced as in the above illustration. In that case, the next thing to look for is how the flowers are attached to the branch of the tree.
Plum blossoms develop individually and have no stem, instead growing straight out from the branch. Peach blossoms have short stems, with two flowers sprouting from roughly the same position on the bough. Finally, cherry blossoms have the longest stems, with multiple-flower clusters all originating at the same point along the branch, which provides a concrete reason for why their blooming has such a dramatic aura.
▼ Once again, plum (left), peach (center), and cherry (right)
Finally, the color of the petals can also be a clue as to the flower’s identity.
In general, only plum blossoms, shown in the center of the above photo, can bloom in an almost crimson shade of purple. The most extreme examples are more pronounced than the one seen in the photo, so seeing a dark color tells you right away that the flower is a plum blossom, but things get trickier with white or pink flowers. Both plum and cherry blossoms can be white, and all three types of flowers can be pink, so really all the color test can tell you for sure is that if it’s purple, it’s a plum, and if it’s not pink, then it isn’t a peach blossom.
Still, with three different methods to tell the three types of flowers apart, we think you’ll be all set for your spring flower viewing.