In early spring, the Akebono and the Somei-Yoshino cherry trees are flowering at the same time in Vancouver and they look very similar, so how can you tell them apart?
Somei-Yoshino is the parent of Akebono: the blossoms are a bit whiter than Akebono and the tree has curved branches, while Akebono has stiff straight branches. However, there’s an easier way to tell the difference. Look at this Akebono blossom closely:
The most distinctive characteristic of Akebono is that some blossoms will have a petaloid (an additional incomplete petal). This unformed petal – a stamen that mutated – will occur every 10th or 15th flower.
If you’re pretty sure the tree you’re looking at is either Somei-yoshino or Akebono, and you find a petaloid, then you know the cherry tree is an Akebono. However, the petaloid is usually one of the first petal to fall, so it’s important to make your identification early. Otherwise, you might falsely identify an Akebono for a Somei-Yoshino. (At the Blossom Biology workshop the Akebono had shed its petaloid and looked almost identical to the Somei-Yoshino).
Thanks to Douglas Justice for all the information he provided during the cherry blossom biology workshop at VanDusen garden.