Bloomin' lovely: Japan's sakura tree and its look-alike in Goa

Sakura trees, which bloom in Japan at this time of year, are a spectacular sight which could possibly be replicated in Goa with local flora
PRETTY IN PINK: Pink flowers envelope Japan's sakura tree from January till March.
PRETTY IN PINK: Pink flowers envelope Japan's sakura tree from January till March.Photo: Gomantak Times

Cherry blossoms and the tree are known as Sakura, the national tree and flower of Japan. It now permeates their culture, tradition and tourism.

The cherry blossoms symbolise clouds because of their characteristic mass blooming in pastel pink to white petals on a leafless tree. They are considered an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral and transient nature of life, here today, gone tomorrow

PRETTY IN PINK: Pink flowers envelope Japan's sakura tree from January till March.
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The Japanese government encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the cherry blossoms. So, cherry blossoms are intricately intertwined into the life and culture of Japan.

Beyond viewing cherry blossoms, the Japanese make ice-cream and pastries with the cherries and petals, which have a mild vanilla-type aroma.

A close up of cherry blossom flowers.
A close up of cherry blossom flowers.

Most of the cherry trees are grown as ornamentals for their flowers, and only a few for the cherries. There are two distinct groups of ornamental cherry trees bred by the Japanese to promote tourism for viewing them.

The early varieties bloom towards the end of winter in the warmer coastal region, while it may still be snowing on Mount Fuji, like it did while I was in Japan at the end of February.

PRETTY IN PINK: Pink flowers envelope Japan's sakura tree from January till March.
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The other set of cherry varieties are bred to bloom in late springtime and summer. That is the peak tourist season for Hanami or cherry blossom viewing and festivals. One has to go there to experience and understand just what it means to the Japanese.

In the 1700s, botanist, Joseph Pitton de Tournefort created the genus, Cerasus, for cherries. Some botanists use it as a genus, while others refer to it as a sub-genus of Prunus.

The Prunus genus of Linnaeus includes peaches, plums, apricots and almonds. The cherry tree, Prunus serrulata, is often referred to as the ‘Japanese Cherry tree’. The cherry-picking of scientific names continues.

Similar is the case with Swingle’s and Tanaka’s classification of citrus fruits, which are also very promiscuous in their breeding.

PRETTY IN PINK: Pink flowers envelope Japan's sakura tree from January till March.
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The Japanese developed cherry trees for their blossoms and made it into an art like Bonsai. They developed varieties by breeding and multiplied them clonally by grafting to achieve a terrific selection of varieties for early Spring and late summer.

The Oshima cherry tends to mutate and produce many fragrant and large, double-petalled flowers. It grows quickly and, hence, has been used as a rootstock for grafting the Yoshino variety that is popular in Japan. The Japanese know how to make things better.

SEEING DOUBLE: When in bloom, Giri Pushpa or Glyricedia, looks very similar to the sakura tree.
SEEING DOUBLE: When in bloom, Giri Pushpa or Glyricedia, looks very similar to the sakura tree.

The tradition of having feasts near cherry trees and cherry viewing is known as Hanami. It became popular during the era when the present town of Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794 A.D.

It boasts of a mammoth wooden temple with a huge statue of Buddha. Later, Kyoto (meaning ‘capital’ in the Japanese language) became the capital from 794 to 1867 AD and Tokyo followed thereafter.

PRETTY IN PINK: Pink flowers envelope Japan's sakura tree from January till March.
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The blooming of cherry blossom begins in Okinawa in January and reaches the old and new capital cities of Kyoto and Tokyo at the beginning of April or the end of March.

Closer to home, in the Konkan, we have the Giri Pushpa or Glyricedia plant that can give a similar effect as cherry blossoms if it is not pruned after the monsoons. We need to explore this as it blooms during the tourist season of December to March.

The author is the former Chairman of the GCCI Agriculture Committee, CEO of Planter's Choice Pvt Ltd, Additional Director of OFAI and Garden Superintendent of Goa University, and has edited 18 books for Goa & Konkan

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