Plant of the Week: Prunus "Okame" - Okame Flowering Cherry
I’m impatient for spring to begin, so I naturally gravitate towards the early spring blooming plants. In our unpredictable, and obviously changing, weather patterns this oftentimes leads to freezes and disappointment. But, I still like early. One of the early plants that has caught my attention is the Okame flowering cherry, Prunus x ‘Okame’.
Okame flowering cherry is a deciduous flowering tree of the rose family. It is a hybrid of the Japanese Fuji cherry (P. incisa) with the Formosan cherry (P. campanulate), two of the 430 species of cherries described throughout the northern hemisphere. It grows between twenty to thirty feet tall and, with age, can have a spread equal to its height. But young trees grow decidedly upright with a broadly columnar form.
The bark of older trees is a shining rusty-tan and marked with numerous gray, elongated lenticels. Fall color is a modest bronze to orange, most pronounced during dry falls.
Flowers are single, non-fragrant and produced in mass. The five-petaled blooms are pink, but complimented by streaks of red from the calyx and peduncles. Blooming is early, usually in late February or early March in north Arkansas. This is a low-chill flowering cherry and said to be one of the most reliable for southern gardens.
Okame was bread by Collingwood “Cherry” Ingram (1880 – 1981), the scion of an English newspaper publisher who fought in WWI in the English Air Corp. Prior to the Great War, his main interest was ornithology, but in 1919 he purchased an estate in Kent and became interested in gardening, especially cherries. In 1948 he published his book Ornamental Cherries.
Ornamental cherries – exceeded only in significance by the deciduous magnolias and flowering dogwoods – are beloved additions to the springtime garden. Their cloudlike heads of pink make grand additions to the spring garden and are always a welcome reminder of the season. Unfortunately, they are not long lived in the garden, seldom making it past thirty years of age. Calamities such as borers and split bark from late-winter freezes can take their toll.
Planting early blooming plants such as Okame cherry on the north or east side of a house will slow bloom and might even avoid late spring freezes, should they occur. This is a small specimen tree that is well suited for use individually or in boulevard style plantings. Because trunks are easily injured, protect by using a mulch ring to keep mowers and line trimmers at a distance.
Okame cherries should be planted in full sun or in areas with afternoon shade in a rich, well drained garden soil. Plants are hardy from zones 6 through 9. Borers are the most serious pest problem. Invasion by these damaging insects is best avoided by assuring the trees are kept well-watered during times of stress and avoiding trunk injury.
For more information about horticulture or to see other Plant of the Week columns, visit Extension’s Website, www.uaex.edu, or contact your county extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.
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