News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Plum Trees

Monday, September 22, 2014

The sweetly scented plum blossoms in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden create a connection to China and Japan.

Plum trees have been cultivated in China for thousands of years where they come into flower in late winter. They produce striking blossoms on bare branches while the rest of the landscape is still barren and cold.

According to a Chinese saying the fragrance of plum blossoms “comes from the bitterness and coldness” a metaphor describing the value of endurance, inner strength and unyielding courage.

Plum trees, bamboo and pine are the “friends of winter” and together they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance and resilience. The friends of winter are widely referred to in Chinese literature and regularly appear together in art. They are also highly regarded in Confucianism where their combined attributes represent the scholar-gentleman's ideal.

“Hanami” the ancient Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, celebrated plum blossoms (ume) before cherry blossoms (sakura) became more popular in the Heian Period (794 to 1185).

The flowering of the plum trees in spring is still celebrated in Japan with plum festivals (ume matsuri) in public parks, shrines and temples. The famous Japanese garden Kairaku-en (A park to be enjoyed together) displays over 3000 plum trees of 100 varieties and holds a plum festival from late February to March.

Plum blossom is synonymous with late winter and early spring in Japanese haiku poetry.

The popular species of plum tree in Japan is Prunus mume which is actually more closely related to the apricot tree than the plum tree. The fruit of the tree is used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking in juices, as a flavouring for alcohol, as a pickle and in sauces. It is also used in traditional medicine.

Prunus mume prefers cooler climes than Dubbo so the species chosen for Shoyoen is the more hardy Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi Nigra’.

                                                                                                                                 By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan