Meet the Trees: Prunus Mume
Our first member of the cherry family is blooming in the Park! Prunus mume, the Japanese apricot, is one of the earliest flowering members of its genus. Prunus includes stone fruit relatives such as the sakura, almonds, apricots, plums, cherries, and peaches. Japanese apricots are attractive ornamental trees, with over 300 named cultivars registered. Despite its name, P. mume is actually native to China and Korea, not Japan. Its common name, however, reflects its extensive cultivation in Japan over the past 1,500 years where it has been used as the main ingredient in plum liquor.
Japanese apricot’s flower in late winter. The flowers can be single or double in shades of red, pink, or white. After flowering, the tree produces leaves and develops the small fruits that lend this tree its name. The apricots, though superficially similar to the commonly-eaten Siberian Apricot (Prunus armeniaca), are of far inferior quality and ripen during the summer. While edible, the fruit is regarded as too bitter to be enjoyable; however, the fruit makes excellent jams and preserves. The specific name, mume, is one variation of the Japanese name for a member of the species Prunus. Japanese apricots were introduced to the West via imports to Britain in the mid-1800’s.