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The Higan Cherry Tree

The long-lived ornamental Higan cherry tree, Prunus x subhirtella, can often be the perfect addition to your lawn. The tree provides a great deal of visual interest all throughout the year, with its intense flowering in the spring, dark green leaves in the summer months, explosive autumn colors, and attractive red-toned bark.

Higan cherry tree blossom.
Higan cherry tree blossom.

In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the beautiful, low-maintenance Higan cherry tree.

History of the Higan Cherry Tree

The Higan cherry tree is a native of Japan and one of more than a dozen varieties of pink weeping cherry. These trees are prized for their aesthetic beauty, but do not produce edible fruit. It was one of the first varieties of cherry blossom trees introduced to Europe and the United States in the mid-to-late 19th century.

The weeping variety of the Higan cherry tree as well as other cherry blossom trees have become significant cultural symbols of spring in both Japan and in regions of the United States to which they’ve been introduced. The practice of picnicking under the trees in March and April to enjoy the flowers has become a common custom in both areas. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, held in Washington D.C, is held to commemorate the occasion of the city receiving cherry blossom trees as a gift from Tokyo back in 1912.

Higan cherry trees in particular are prized for their aesthetic value due to the shape of their flowers. A one thousand-year-old weeping Higan cherry tree located in Fukushima Prefecture was designated a national treasure back in 1922 and is considered to be one of three great cherry trees in Japan.

Miharu Takizakura, the Higan cherry tree named a national treasure in Japan.
Miharu Takizakura, the Higan cherry tree named a national treasure in Japan.

Higan Cherry Tree Characteristics

There are a variety of cultivars, the two most popular being the upright ‘Autumnalis’, known for having double pink blooms, and the ‘Pendula’ which is a very distinctive weeping variety.

The weeping Higan cherry tree flowers in mid to late April and has light pink flowers which are roughly half an inch to one inch in diameter. These flowers are semidouble, complete flowers growing in clusters of between four and eight blossoms.

Higan cherry trees show gorgeous pink and white blossoms in the spring, but retain visual interest all year round. In the summer months, they are crowned with dark green foliage which gradually morphs into shades of yellow and orange during autumn. In the winter, its dark red-toned bark stands out.

The Higan cherry is a medium-sized tree which can grow to be thirty feet tall on average.

Planting Zones

The Higan cherry tree does well in zones four through eight.

Size and Spacing

The Higan cherry tree can grow to a height of between twenty and thirty feet at maturity. Its spread is typically around fifteen to thirty feet.

Because the Higan cherry is a broad classification of plants, you’ll want to do your research on what variety of Higan cherry would do best where you’re thinking of planting it. Do you have enough space for the weeping variety, or should you go with a more upright tree? Do you have enough sun on a particular site to make planting a Higan cherry tree worth it?

Pollination

The flowers of the Higan cherry tree are pollinated by bees, birds, butterflies, or other pollinators.

Tree Care

Sunlight

The Higan cherry tree can thrive in full sun or partial shade. However, the shade will affect the bloom ratio of the tree. More shade equals fewer blooms in the spring. The most intense flowering will result from at least four hours of direct sun a day.

Watering

Higan cherry tress should be watered deeply after planting until their roots become established. Watering should also be done during dry spells or droughts. If you’re concerned about keeping the soil moist, adding a three-inch thick layer of organic mulch should help. Just be careful to give the tree trunk at least six inches of space from the mulch.

Pruning

Higan cherry trees don’t need much in the way of pruning to be healthy. That said, pruning of diseased, dead, or dying branches should always be done as soon as you become aware that there’s an issue. Any shaping or pruning done for better air circulation should be done after the tree has flowered.

Diseases and Care

Cherry trees can be susceptible to root and crown rot as a result of an organism that is present in most soil types. Be on the lookout for rot spots along branches as well as diseases of knots. Dry powdery mildew and cankers of the trunk can also occur.

These trees do well in a variety of garden environments provided they get enough sunlight. While they can thrive in partial shade, the lack of sunlight will affect their bloom in the spring, which can make them look less ‘full’ than they would have. They prefer loamy, fertile, and well-drained soil.

Common Uses For Higan Cherries

What does the fruit taste like?

The fruit of the Higan cherry tree is inedible to humans, but perfectly edible to squirrels and other small animals who help the tree spread its seeds. That said, both the leaves and flowers of cherry blossom trees are edible.

Sakurayu is a clear herbal tea made from cherry blossoms that have been salt-pickled and placed in hot water. It’s traditionally served at weddings and symbolizes a good beginning.

Sakura mochi is also a common confection in Japan during the spring. The red-bean-paste-filled rice cake is wrapped in a cherry blossom leaf.

Sakura Mochi.
Sakura Mochi.

Health Benefits of Cherries

While the fruit of the Higan cherry tree may be inedible, many other varieties are not. Some health benefits of cherries include:

  • May protect heart health
  • Packed with nutrients
  • Can boost exercise recovery
  • Rich in antioxidants

Where to Buy a Higan Cherry?

The tree itself in its true form can be a bit difficult to find as it isn’t widely available commercially. There are, however, several varities which are, including the Autumnalis or ‘autumn blooming cherry’ and the Pendula or ‘weeping cherry’. Both are available from Nature Hills Nursery.

Where to Buy Higan Cherries?

In addition to being inedible, the fruit is sparsely spread throughout the tree, which would make packaging a large amount of it difficult. If you’re curious about the fruit, the best solution is to attend a cherry blossom festival — or grow a tree yourself.

Higan Cherry Facts / FAQ

Are Higan cherry trees self-pollinating?

No, Higan cherry flowers must be pollinated, typically by bees.

Can you eat Higan cherries?

No. The Higan cherry tree is strictly ornamental when it comes to human consumption.

How big to Higan cherry trees get?

Higan cherry trees grow to be between twenty and thirty feet tall on average, with a fifteen to twenty foot spread.

Wrapping up The Higan Cherry Tree

The Higan cherry tree is a gorgeous and low-investment ornamental which can add a touch of fleeting, spring time beauty to your lawn. Its flowers have been used in works of art for centuries as a symbol of spring and the delicate beauty of life. Add this beautiful tree to your garden today!