Do Cherry Blossom Trees Smell? 9 Cherry Blossom Facts

Closeup of pink cherry blossoms

One of the most incredible things about cherry trees is their blooms; you really don’t want to miss them! Cherry blossom trees bloom right at the beginning of spring with incredible shades of pink blooms. Did you know you can get arrested for picking cherry blossoms? 

Cherry blossom trees typically have an incredibly short blooming season, lasting only between early March and even into April for up to a ten-day period. During this time, cherry blossom trees do smell when in bloom. The blooms and their flowers give off a very faint scent of vanilla, lilac and rose.

Below, we’ll go into details about cherry blossoms and their scent. Stick around to learn some facts about cherry blossoms that we bet you didn’t know! Here are nine facts about cherry blossoms:

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Cherry Blossom Trees Are Ornamental

Cherry blossoms are considered flowering cherries or ornamental cherries, meaning they usually do not produce fruit and are grown for their incredible, luscious blooms. They are typically found in northern temperate regions, such as in the mountains of the Andes in South America, as well as Southeast Asia. 

They belong to the genus Prunus, which in Latin means plum or cherry tree; this genus includes more than 600 species of stone fruit trees and shrubs, including cherries, plums, apricots, nectarines, almonds, and peaches. 

Most cherry trees have a short lifespan between 15-25 years, occasionally 25-50 years. Additionally, cherry blossoms only bloom for several days up to 10 days, right at the beginning of spring, so the window to see them is very small!

Cherry Blossom Trees Have A Faint Smell

Cherry blossoms (sakura)

Cherry blossoms are known to have a very faint smell. Most of the time, if you walk past them, you won’t really smell much of anything, except maybe the slightest sweet smell. It is said to be comparable to an exceptionally faint smell of lilac. 

Another fruit tree, the pear tree, emits an awful smell. If you have ever seen these trees with white blooms, you have probably gotten an accompanied whiff of dead fish. But as for the cherry tree, it is probably more likely that you won’t smell anything.

Washington DC Has Its Own Cherry Blossom Festival

Did you know that you can get arrested for breaking off a branch or flower on cherry blossoms? Yep! That’s right! In Washington DC, it is considered vandalism of federal property, resulting in a citation or even being arrested!

But besides that, every year, in March through April, Washington DC has its National Cherry Blossom Festival. It celebrates and honors the relationship and cultures between America and Japan and the gift of 3,000 cherry trees given to Washington DC by Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo in 1912.

What a wonderful celebration!

Cherry Blossoms Only Bloom For Up To 10 Days

Cherry blossom bloom periods vary from year to year and are dependent upon the weather. The peak bloom lasts only for a few days, so if you want to see cherry blossom trees blooming, don’t put it off. 

Typically, cherry trees bloom in early spring, around March and April. However, in Japan, they can bloom as early as February, which is also the official beginning of spring in the Japanese calendar.

Cherry blossoms, once at full bloom, only last for about a week and occasionally up to two weeks. Generally, they bloom for ten days. After this period, the petals begin to drop, and green leaves begin to appear. Cherry trees need approximately a month of weather below 41 degrees to bloom properly. 

As temperatures continue to increase and get warmer earlier in the year, the cherry tree blooms periods vary, making it increasingly more difficult to predict. As of this year, April 2021, Kyoto, Japan, had the earliest cherry tree bloom in 1,200 years!

Macon, Georgia Is The Cherry Blossom Capital Of The World

Macon, Georgia, is considered the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World, with over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees. Although Washington DC is home to an array of cherry trees, Macon has 90 times more cherry blossom trees than DC! 

Every year Macon, Georgia, hosts the International Cherry Blossom Festival in late March. The festival would not have been possible without William Fickling Sr., who discovered the exact same tree in his Georgia backyard, that he saw in Washington DC during a business trip in 1952.

The Cherry Blossom Festival did not begin in Macon until 1982, which was created by Carolyn Cayton to honor William Fickling.

However, cherry blossom trees can still be enjoyed around the world! This includes Washington DC, New York, Japan, Paris, Hamburg, Vancouver, London, and more!

Cherry Blossoms Are An Integral Part Of Japanese Culture

The annual march wuling farm s cherry blossom season, wuling cherry varieties based on color pink flowers form large cherry pretty in pink p hybrid cv - pink lady for lord

Cherry blossom trees, known as sakura, in Japan have a unique place in Japanese culture.

Spring officially starts in February, according to the traditional Japanese calendar. This also happens to be the beginning of plum blossom blooms. Soon after, cherry blossoms begin to bloom. 

In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms represent renewal, being in the moment, and the beautiful fleeting impermanence of nature. Hanami, known as flower watching, has traditionally been set aside during ancient periods for observing the cherry blossoms.

Cherry Blossoms Are Susceptible To A Variety Of Diseases

Unfortunately, flowering cherries are susceptible to a host of diseases and pests.

Some concerns for flowering cherries:

  • Cherry brown rot causes defoliation, branch dieback, and blossom blight.
  • Cherry bark tortrix is actually a moth, but the damaging stage is the larvae, which bore into the trunk of the tree, causing branch dieback.
  • Shot hole disease is a disease caused by a beetle called the shothole borer. It lives in between the bark and the outer layer of wood of the trunk. It is the cause of this fungal disease that causes leaf drops and cankers. The Kwanzan cherry is resistant to this disease.
  • Cherry leaf spot is another fungal disease, causing leaf chlorosis, i.e., a lack of chlorophyll causing yellowing of leaf tissue and premature defoliation. The Kwanzan cherry is moderately resistant. However, the Yoshino and Okame cherry trees are susceptible to cherry leaf spot.

The best management of disease resistance and infection is to plant disease-tolerant cherries like the Kwanzan, Prunus serrulata, or the Autumnalis, Prunus subhirtella, Akebono cherry, Prunus x yedoensis, Pink Flair® cherry, Prunus sargentii’ JFS-KW58′.

Cherry Blossoms Have A Short Lifespan

Beautiful yoshino cherry blossoms sakura (prunus × yedoensis) tree bloom in spring in the castle park, copy space, close up, macro.

Cherry blossom trees, Prunus spp., are arguably some of the most beautiful flowering trees. Cherry blossom trees are considered ornamental flowering fruit trees, meaning they do not bear fruit like regular cherry trees. 

As such, they have a shorter lifespan, too.

They bloom in early spring with a range of white to pink shades of flowers. Although the size, growth rate, and age range for individual cherry blossoms, we’ve got some of the most common cherry blossom trees you may have heard of or seen and their lifespan too!

If you’re interested, you can check out our piece on the lifespan for common oak trees here.

Yoshino Cherry Blossom Tree, Prunus x yedoensis

Although native to Japan, the Yoshino cherry is a common specimen tree in landscaping. It is prominent in New York City and Washington DC. Unfortunately, this tree has a short lifespan of only 15-20 years. 

The Yoshino cherry grows 40-50 feet tall and wide, growing 1-2 feet per year. It has a beautiful round shape and spectacular white and pink blooms that are said to be quite fragrant. This tree does well in fast-draining acidic soil and needs full sun or partial shade. It is not drought, heat, or humidity tolerant but can easily grow in zones 5-8.

Okame Cherry Blossom Tree, Prunus x incamp ‘Okame’

The Okame cherry is a fast-growing hybrid cherry. This tree was created to be significantly cold tolerant than its one parent tree, Prunus incisa while maintaining the hot pink and red flowers of the other parent tree, Prunus campanulata.

Okame cherries need full sun but can tolerate light shade. Although it prefers moist, well-draining loamy soil, they are able to grow in all soil types. This gorgeous cherry grows in zones 6-8 and 15-25 feet tall; unfortunately, this cherry blossom also only has a lifespan of 15-25 years.

Akebono Cherry Tree, Prunus x yedoensis ‘Akebono’

The Akebono cherry has a very similar growth habit to the Yoshino, with gorgeous and slightly more double pink blooms. It grows to about 25 feet tall and wide and does exceptionally well in the Pacific Northwest. It grows well in zones 4-8 and is extremely cold hardy.

The Akebono cherry blossom tree typically lives around 15-20 years.

Weeping Higan Cherry Tree, Prunus x subhirtella ‘Pendula’

The weeping cherry is probably my favorite of all cherry trees. Once you see one in all its glory, you might feel the same! It has the beauty of a cherry and the delicacy of a weeping tree.

The Higan cherry grows 20-40 feet tall and wide, with showstopping cascading branches full of white, pink, or even dark pink flowers. It does best in well-draining soils but can adapt to all soil types and grows well in zones 4-9, preferably zones 5-8. It has a short lifespan compared to other species of trees, but with a lifespan of 25-50 years

The weeping cherry is much longer than most cherries! It can even continue to live significantly longer, even up to 100 years or more. Higan cherries are considered to have good disease resistance.

Autumnalis Cherry Tree, Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’

The Autumnalis Cherry is a fast-growing tree, growing more than 2 feet per year! Its blooms begin in a dark pink when the bud first appears and open as light pink, and then to almost white. It is cold, hardy, heat, and stress-tolerant. It will have a sporadic bloom in warm fall weather and grows well in zones 4-8. 

Pink Flair® Cherry Tree, Prunus sargentii ‘JFS-KW58’

The Pink Flair® cherry has exceptional cold hardiness, drought tolerance, and heat tolerant. It is a more compact, upright growth habit and is incredibly disease-resistant. It grows to a height of 25 feet and a width of 15.

The Pink Flair® cherry tree has one of the longest cherry tree lifespans, lasting up to 50 years!

Kwanzan Cherry Blossom Tree, Prunus serrulata’ Kwanzan’

This cherry is commonly planted with Yoshino cherry blooms and grows up to 30-40 feet tall and wide. The Kwanzan cherry is also short-lived, with an average lifespan of 15-20 years. It does not do well in coastal areas and requires full sun. 

The Kwanzan cherry tree has gorgeous double dark pink flowers and does well in all types of soil. Although it prefers moist soil, it is partly drought tolerant but is also sensitive to pollution and stress.

Cherry Blossoms Are Used In Japanese Cuisine

In Japan, during early spring, you’ll see cherry blossom-flavored everything. Although the scent of cherry blossoms is so faint, you almost can’t smell it. 

When pickling the leaves and petals, the coumarin, a chemical found in cherries as well as many other plants, is brought to the surface, giving it a vanilla, floral, earthy, and slightly bitter scent.

Here are some of the most common uses of cherry blossoms in Japanese cuisine:

  • Sakura Onigiri – Cherry blossom rice balls, leaves, and blossoms are pickled, mixed with rice, and formed into rice balls.
  • Sakuramochi – There are a few varieties of this sweet sakura dessert, depending on which region of Japan it is from. There are Kansai and Kanto types, which are both wrapped with salted, pickled cherry blossom leaves. The Kansai sakura mochi is called Dōmyōji Mochi, in which the red bean center is wrapped with mochi made with Dōmyōji flour. On the other hand, Kanto sakura mochi, called chomeiji, is wrapped in something similar to a crepe.
  • Sakurayu – This is a cherry blossom tea, where hot water is poured over pickled cherry blossom flowers. It is commonly reserved for celebratory occasions.
  • Sakura anpan – The sakura anpan is similar to the bean paste sweet roll, and it is a sweet snack of bean paste surrounded by fluffy bread and topped with a pickled, salted cherry blossom.

That’s A Wrap!

There you have it! That’s all we have on the incredibly versatile cherry blossom trees. If you haven’t seen a cherry blossom bloom, check out if there are any in your area at local parks or try to make it to a cherry blossom festival; when they bloom, they will blow you away.

To recap, here are cherry blossom facts:

  • Cherry blossoms don’t really have a strong smell, and it is fairly faint.
  • Cherry blossom trees grow best in temperate regions and are part of the Prunus genus, which encompasses 600 species of stone fruit trees and shrubs.
  • Washington DC has a famous cherry blossom festival, the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
  • Cherry blossom blooms last for about a week.
  • Macon, Georgia, is the cherry blossom capital of the world.
  • Cherry blossoms are an integral part of Japanese culture.
  • Cherry blossoms are susceptible to a variety of diseases.
  • There are disease-resistant cherry blossom trees.
  • Cherry blossoms have a short life span, typically 15-25 years.
  • Cherry blossoms are used in Japanese cuisine.

If you’re looking to enjoy cherry blossom blooms in your own yard, just be sure you get a variety that is cold or heat tolerant depending on your zone and have a spot with mostly full sun to plant it in, and opt for a more disease-resistant variety!

References:

Chung, Uran, et al. “Predicting the timing of cherry blossoms in Washington, DC and mid-Atlantic states in response to climate change.” PloS one 6.11 (2011): e27439.

Holb, I. J. “Brown rot blossom blight of pome and stone fruits: symptom, disease cycle, host resistance, and biological control.” International journal of horticultural science 14.3 (2008): 15-21.

Lim, JinHee, et al. “A new spray chrysanthemum cultivar,” Cherry Blossom” with resistant to white rust, single flower type and bright pink petals for cut flower.” Korean Journal of Breeding Science 40.4 (2008): 439-442.

Sakurai, Ryo, et al. “Culture and climate change: Japanese cherry blossom festivals and stakeholders’ knowledge and attitudes about global climate change.” Biological Conservation 144.1 (2011): 654-658.

Wittig, H. P. P., K. B. Johnson, and J. W. Pscheidt. “Effect of epiphytic fungi on brown rot blossom blight and latent infections in sweet cherry.” Plant Disease 81.4 (1997): 383-387.

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