Spring is officially here, but not all your bulbs and trees will blossom for a few more weeks. Give your landscape a jumpstart by planting a true harbinger of spring, the Prunus mume, also known as Japanese apricot or Chinese plum.
A native to Korea and China, this rare, deciduous tree has been in cultivation for over 1,500 years. Reaching 20 to 40 feet in height, Prunus mume will summer with green leaves. In mid to late winter, depending on the zone, cultivar and weather, colorful blooms in red, pink or white, both single or double, will open over several weeks.
This tree isn’t well known in the United States even though it has long been a favorite in Japan, where there are an estimated 300 named cultivars. One of the largest collections of Prunus mume is found in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University, where Dr. J. C. Raulston worked to showcase the tree for years. Locally, The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College has a lovely collection as well.
“These trees are elegant in their stature and floral display, unlike some of the larger, bold cherry varieties,” says Sam Keitch, Public Landscapes Project Manager at PHS. “They are not commonly sold in nurseries and are a novelty to come across. If you’re lucky enough to find a small one, it’s worth the investment.” Locally, Brandywine Trees, LLC, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, sells an assortment of them. Another resource is the Forestfarm catalog.
The Public Landscapes team is looking for unique candidates for some of its smaller spaces in the city and this is one of the species selected. “We are working to curate and increase the diversity of our older, historic sites. It’s a perfect tree to announce spring in our intimate, urban spaces, and we plan on placing then in several locations throughout the city,” says Sam. “Our strategy is to complement the blossoms with a potpourri of bulbs for a staggered bloom sequence,” he adds.
Several to choose from include ‘Peggy Clarke,’ with pink double flowers; ‘Bonita,’ a rose-red semi-double blossom; ‘Dawn,’ a large, ruffled double pink blossom; ‘Fragrant Snow,’ a beautiful, white semi-double flower; or ‘Kobai’ with pinkish-red flowers.