By David Bare
Special to The Outlook
According to a recent NPR report, eight million foreign tourists normally visit Japan during cherry blossom season, or hanami. That likely will not happen this year. Nor will visitors be privileged to see the mid- and late-season blossoms at Descanso Gardens, as they are currently underway. Cherries seem to react to the weather differently every year, but this season has been marked by gradual change and progression.
The early Taiwanese cherries and “Pink Cloud” have long been finished, and Beni Hoshi and Akebono are in their full glory now. Both have distinct characteristics. Beni Hoshi is variously defined as meaning pink star, ruby star or red star. It is decidedly soft shell pink in the flowering cherry, but a Japanese maple with the same name is commonly called “Ruby Stars” for its red, star-shaped spring leaves. Beni Hoshi flowers are distinctly pointed and star-shaped.
Akebono, the day-break cherry, tends more toward pure white, though on close observation there is the faintest blush of pink. The diaphanous petals are round and borne in rounded clusters of three or four. Akebono was one of the original varieties gifted to the U.S. that line the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is interesting to see that while Akebono and Beni Hoshi are in full bloom and popping a hint of foliage, the earlier flowering Pink Cloud is maturing its leaves and even setting a few berry-sized fruit. Snofozan (or snow fountain) is blooming in the Rose Garden. Falling somewhere between the previous two, it is both in flower and leaf. Snofozan is a weeping cherry, its branches held in pendulous cascades.
We have some new weeping cherries included in the front drive landscape. Prunus pendula Rosea, the Higan cherry, is a weeping cherry tree that forms curtains of pale pink flowers. Ohigan is a Buddhist holiday celebrated exclusively in Japan during the spring and autumn equinoxes. The early flowering Higan cherry and the autumn flowering lycoris are symbolically linked to these two cycles. We situated our weeping Higan cherries on our mounds for maximum cascade effect. Like many newly planted nursery trees, they are on their own schedule and taking their time to break bud.
The last of the cherries to flower may be considered the most spectacular. Kanzan (often spelled and pronounced “Kwanzan”) is a multi-petaled fluff ball of a tree that generally sprouts olive-colored new leaves along with its flower clusters. As I write this, the Kanzan trees in Magnolia Lawn are just beginning. Severely damaged by the heat wave of July 2018, I do not expect these trees to ever recover their form. However, a newly planted Kanzan on the main lawn is well on its way to becoming one of Descanso’s iconic cherries. Though Kanzan makes an impact, it lacks the delicacy and grace that mark Beni Hoshi or Akebono. But then, who’s keeping score?
David Bare is Descanso Gardens’ director of Horticulture and Garden Operations.