Can’t Tell a Cherry Blossom From a Plum Blossom? 10 Differences to Look Out For

  • HOW TO
  • Cherry blossom and plum blossom trees are iconic for their pink flowers and are mainly found in Japan, Korea, and China. Plum blossoms, however, are less significant in Japan when compared to cherry blossoms. Even so, they can still be easily mistaken for each other, especially from afar. Let’s dive into this article to learn how to differentiate these two very similar, but completely different plants!

    1. Name

    Both plants are of the same genus Prunus, but their similarity ends there. Cherry blossoms, known as “sakura (桜)” in Japan, are of the subgenus Cerasus and the species Prunus serrulata, while plum blossoms, known as “ume (梅)” in Japan, are of the subgenus Prunus and the species Prunus mume. Their scientific names already provide some hints – one is a cherry tree, while another is a plum tree!

    2. Flowers
    Plum blossom flowers

    Cherry blossom

    • petals are narrower in shape
    • there is a small split at the end of each individual petal (although sometimes, this trait might not be visible)
    • colors usually range from white to pink

    Plum blossom

    • petals are rounder in shape
    • colors usually range from white to dark crimson with a purple shade
    3. Branches, stems, and buds
    Cherry blossom branches

    Cherry blossom

    • stems are longer
    • multiple flowers per bud along the stem
    • buds are oval in shape

    Plum blossom

    • stems are very short and almost non-existent
    • one flower per bud along the stem
    • buds are round in shape
    4. Leaves

    Cherry blossom

    • green or copper, but turn yellow, red, or crimson at the end of autumn
    • arranged alternately
    • petioles are short
    • leaf edges are jagged
    • appear after the flowers have bloomed

    Plum blossom

    • reddish purple, sometimes green
    • oval-shaped with a pointed and uncurled tip
    • appear while the flowers are blooming or shortly after the petals fall off
    5. Bark

    Cherry blossom

    • in a lighter shade, chestnut brown/grayish
    • smooth, with obvious horizontal lines

    Plum blossom

    • often in a darker shade/almost black, sometimes in gray with a tinge of green
    • slightly rough, with no horizontal lines
    6. Tree appearance
    Cherry blossom trees

    Cherry blossom

    • with a dense crown
    • can reach a height of 26 to 39 feet (8 to 12 meters)
    • flowers are denser, almost covering the stems and branches

    Plum blossom

    • 13 to 33 feet (4 to 10 meters) in height
    • flowers are sparse compared to cherry blossom
    7. Smell

    Cherry blossom

    • very light or almost no scent

    Plum blossom

    • sweet and flowery scent
    8. Bloom period
    Plum blossom tree

    Cherry blossom

    • mid-March to early April

    Plum blossom

    • January to March
    9. Cultural significance

    Cherry blossom

    • always associated with Japan
    • symbolizes clouds in Japan due to their nature of blooming en masse
    • was used to motivate soldiers in Japan to “ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter” during war
    • a prevalent symbol in Irezumi, the traditional art of Japanese tattoos
    • often mentioned in Japanese literature and appears in paintings

    Plum blossom

    • often portrayed in Chinese art and poetry
    • a symbol of winter but also signifies the arrival of spring and Chinese New Year
    • the National Flower of the Republic of China
    10. Uses
    Sakura mochi

    Cherry blossom

    • mostly serves as an aesthetic plant and for hanami, as the cultivated varieties do not produce fruit
    • blossoms are pickled and used for coaxing out flavor in wagashi in Japan
    • leaves (mostly from the Oshima cherry because of the softness) can also be pickled in salted water and used for sakura mochi (Note: Cherry blossom leaves contain Coumarin, which is toxic at large doses and should not be consumed in large quantities.)

    Plum blossom

    • used in traditional Chinese medicine
    • fruits are often pickled and preserved for snacks or culinary uses
    • fruits are also often used to make plum liquor and other beverages and condiments such as juice, syrup, sauce, etc.
    • often used as a decoration for Chinese New Year

    After reading this article, hopefully, you are no longer perplexed by the shades of pinks produced by these two different kinds of flowers. Remember, not every pink flower with five petals is a cherry blossom!