Cherry Blossoms vs. Plum Blossoms

Yesterday I realized that despite having lived more than 15 years in Japan, I can’t tell the difference between a plum blossom and a cherry blossom. Even more shockingly, my Japanese wife, and many other Japanese people can’t either. They both come in a wide variety of colors, and both blossoms have five petals each.

Of course sakura (cherry blossoms) and ume (plum blossoms, or more accurately, Japanese apricot) do bloom at different times, so if you see them in February you know they’re probably plum blossoms, and if you see them in April, they’re probably cherry blossoms. There are some plum blossoms still on the trees now, though, and there were early-blooming cherry trees a few weeks ago, so it’s not always easy, and you often see them misidentified on various websites and blogs.

Anyway, I did some research, and here’s how to tell the difference:

1. Look at the stems. Cherry blossoms are usually connected by a long stem to the branch. Plum blossoms are usually (but not always) stuck right on the branch.**

Cherry blossoms

2. Plum blossoms tend to be round, whereas cherry blossoms are oval, and tend to have a little indentation at the top of the petal.

Plum blossoms.

Cherry blossoms

This is my son Matthew enjoying some early-blooming cherry blossoms called higan zakura in Ueno Park yesterday.

By the way, these photos (except the last one) come from the excellent stock.xchng website, an excellent place to find free photos on the Web.

** Sorry, originally I had posted this photo as an example of cherry blossoms that are off the branch. I have been informed in the comments section, however, that they are actually cherry-plum blossoms. Not all plum blossoms grow on the branch, so you have to be careful.

0 replies
  1. nadiaqh
    nadiaqh says:

    Thank for the blog. I always wondered and now seeing the stems on the cherry blossoms it is easier to identify. I LOVE these flower blossoms and the photo of your son is adorable!

  2. knoxblevins
    knoxblevins says:

    Those pictures are so pretty. I love cherry blossoms. Thanks for sharing the info, now I can look smarter if someone says, “hey look at the cherry blossom.” I can be like, “man, that’s a plum blossom can’t you tell.” haha

  3. cliodesign
    cliodesign says:

    Thank you for letting us know the differences between the two tree blossoms. I have both kinds in my yard and I am going to take a closer look at them when they begin to bloom this spring.

    Take care,

    Carol

  4. vixstar1314
    vixstar1314 says:

    hi..thanks for the information.
    Actually I will be going to Tokyo on Saturday so can’t wait to see the sakura blossom for the first time ever. Hopefully by then its still there..
    Oh and your son is very cute..

  5. madsilence
    madsilence says:

    The Kenrokuen Garden currently has a lovely display of ume blossoms. The cherry blossom forecast predicts we’ll see the first sakura blossoms on March 31st in Kanazawa. Thanks for the help in distinguishing sakura from ume.

  6. dawnraids
    dawnraids says:

    those are beautiful. i was actually wondering about the difference. i just want to clip them and take them inside but i never do!! what do the japanese eat to make them the healthiest people on earth?

  7. marco
    marco says:

    At this time, in my garden (center Italy) I only have plums in flower, cherry blossom will come later on. Actually I was used since long time just to look at the color … while there are many other differences.
    Marco

  8. Moranna
    Moranna says:

    Lovely pictures of the blossom. I live in Spain and we are into Almond blossom time as well as Cherry and wild plum. Almond blossom was late this year but has been beautiful in our area of Spain, which hasn’t suffered from the bad winter that some parts of Spain have had.

  9. aeshahadlina
    aeshahadlina says:

    I just love cherry blossoms and plum blossoms. Especially when I love pink. Their structure is beautiful. They are just lovely. My sister is always wondering why I love them so much. Thanks for the amazing fact. 😉

  10. الرَّوْح
    الرَّوْح says:

    ohh! that is so nice!
    I’ve always loved the cherry blossoms, but never knew there is something called plum blossoms.. they both look fascinating!
    thank you so much for sharing this information 🙂

  11. parttimecashmillionaire
    parttimecashmillionaire says:

    As you illustrated spring time in Japan next time you may illustrate autumn in Japan. You know those colourful leaves. I haven’t yet found that colourful in any other places. Does somebody know that colourful equal to Japan or better than?

  12. madyjune
    madyjune says:

    Thanks for the info. I didn’t even know plum blossoms existed until I watched about it in a Korean drama. Now that I think of it, maybe I had seen plum blossoms before, but I had mistaken them with cherry blossoms.

  13. Claudine Giovannoni
    Claudine Giovannoni says:

    All blossom are beautiful!
    Shiroi hana…
    for the jappanese this is the season wich is related to the Shunbun no hi or, for us european “beliwer”, the Εαρινή ισημερία (equinozio di Primavera) a pagan wicca to pay tribute to Eostar patron goddess of fertility.
    Beautiful pictures, this is the first time I visit this blog, I allowed myself to let me notify next posts.
    I wish you a superb spring time
    Serenity :-)claudine
    http://claudine2007.splinder.com

  14. softballgirl78
    softballgirl78 says:

    Thank you for this post. They are both beautiful flowers and now I will be able to tell the difference. I think I just generalize them both as cherry blossoms so this was helpful!

  15. Keren
    Keren says:

    It is one of my desire to plant a cherry blossom tree here in my backyard, I just don’t know if it will grow here because of the hot temperature. I’ve always wonder what’s their difference because they look the same from afar.Now I understand. Thanks for sharing!

  16. laura
    laura says:

    Interesting article and nice photos! Thanks also for including the free photo web source. I have painted cherry/apricot blossoms on some of my ceramic work for many years. I did notice that some grow from little stems while others are on the big branches. Also, that there arean’t usually leaves and blossoms at the same time!

  17. JUST TESTING
    JUST TESTING says:

    Interesting article and nice photos! Thanks also for including the free photo web source. I have painted cherry/apricot blossoms on some of my ceramic work for many

  18. Sarah Wedgbury
    Sarah Wedgbury says:

    I thought I was the only one who didn’t know the difference! I am glad that it is so tricky to tell the difference because I thought I should have known better having lived in Japan for four years. Your pointers are great – will try and put them in to practice next time I come across a blossom.

    I believe that another big difference between the two is the length of time that the blossom survives. Plum blossoms tend to be stronger and last longer, whereas cherry blossoms are very fleeting and I think it is this fact which captured the Japanese romantic and poetic nature hence they have cherry blossom viewing but not plum blossom viewing.

    • Kayla
      Kayla says:

      this is very true. In Chinese culture the Ume blossom is part of the trio “The 3 friends of Winter” because of how well it holds up(the other two being pine and bamboo I believe). The Sakura is portrayed, rightly so, as being so soft and delicate.

  19. mmaoracle
    mmaoracle says:

    when i was in middle school, between the playing field and the running tracke was loads of cherry blossoms, and on windy days all the pink leaves would fly off, it would look like a pink snow storm

  20. quatschtronauts
    quatschtronauts says:

    I think it is unfair the cherry blossom is so much more popular then the plum blossom (I’ve been to sakura-hanami parties, but never to an ume party…)
    The plum has just bad luck, that his “birth-day” date it is too early in the year to sit outside on a plastic blanket!
    Let’s fight for equal rights for the plum blossom!

  21. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    Great post! I have a Ume blossom branch tattoo(the website is a link to my flickr photo of it)-and every time people see it(I’m in America) they compliment me on my beautiful cherry blossom/sakura tattoo. I used to correct people, now I don’t bother. However when I went to Epcot and visited ‘Japan’ all the workers there told me how pretty my ume blossom turned out 🙂 I think the biggest thing to look for, as far as illustrations go anyway, is the double pointed tips of the cherry blossom. In real life it can be a little trickier.

  22. ladyserenity92
    ladyserenity92 says:

    Lovely! I long to see real cherry blossoms. Your son reminded of a story about a Japanese woman and a clueless Amemrican man who was fastanited by an old wives’ tale about when two people stand under a cherry tree. I won’t give away the ‘ending’. 🙂
    It’s a very ‘cute’ story!

  23. Craigk8
    Craigk8 says:

    Couldn’t sleep on a layover in Narita and discovered some gorgeous blossoms outside. Thought they might be really early blooming cherry blossoms but now know that it was the plum blossoms that stood out from the night. Thanks for the excellent blog post.

  24. Calais
    Calais says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing this, it’s just what I need. I’ve been long wondering how the cherry blossoms differ from the ume. This was very helpful. Also, can you I know around what month do they usually bloom in Japan? BTW, that cute baby against those pretty blooms is picture perfect! Keep posting.

    • qjphotos
      qjphotos says:

      Plum blossoms usually bloom in April. In Tokyo and Osaka, they bloom around the end of March. Down south, of course, it’s a couple of weeks earlier, and in colder places like Hokkaido, they sometimes don’t bloom until the end of April.

  25. black rose
    black rose says:

    actually my last name was taken from chinese character for plum fruit, and I always love cherry blossom, but I never ever think that both plum-cherry blossoms have something differ! (a bit embrassing, since I use it as my name!)

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    since the plum blossom actually originates from China personally, i think Chinese plum or mei flower would be a better “more accurate name” for it.

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