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Plum trees versus cherry trees: how to tell the difference and identify them

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At the end of March, when you see rows of pink trees, in Vancouver  don’t be too quick to yell “Cherry blossoms!” These trees might be plum trees – not cherry trees!  To find out, you’ll have to get closer.

There are 12,000 plum blossoms in Vancouver.  Plum trees are beautiful, but since the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival aims at celebrating the beauty of cherry blossoms – not plum blossoms – we prepared this guide to help you to know the difference between plum blossoms and cherry blossoms.

The main characteristics of plum blossoms are:

  • fragrant (they smell good)
  • no split at the end of petals
  • dark trunk with no horizontal lines

Check this out:

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The smell of plum blossoms: Plum blossoms are very fragrant. At this distance, if your tree smells good and “flowery”, it’s probably a plum tree.

The smell of cherry blossoms: The early cherry blossoms are not fragrant. They don’t smell good or “flowery”. Their smell is very faint (almost non-existent), except for some rare cultivars in mid-season that can be very fragrant.

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Petals of plum blossoms: Plum petals are oval. There is no split at the end of the petals.

Petals of cherry blossoms: Cherry blossoms have a small split at the end of each petal.

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Bark on plum trees: The bark of plum trees is dark and does not have horizontal bars.

Bark on cherry trees: the bark of cherry trees is light grey and has horizontal lines called “Lenticels”.

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Buds of plum blossoms: The plum buds are round and there is only one blossom coming out of each bud. They stick straight out from the branches on a short thin stem.

Buds of cherry blossoms: Cherry buds are oval. There is more than one blossom coming out of the bud (in this picture, six flowers are coming out of the bud.)

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Leaves of plum: If the leaves are purple, then it’s definitely a plum tree.   Plums leave come out with the flowers and unroll from a cigar shape.

Leaves of cherry: The leaves of cherry trees are green (or copper) and, for the early cherries, come out usually after the flowers. Cherry leaves unfold like a billfold opening.

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Grafts: On plum trees, the grafts are placed on the branches. They grow vertically on the branches. These grafts will be more visible in early spring before the flowers bloom.

Grafts: On cherry trees, the graft is placed on top of the trunk so the tree looks “stompy”.

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The shape of plum: mostly round or oval.

The shape of cherry trees: umbrella shape (the branches are spreading, so the top is wide than the bottom).

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Colour: plum blossoms can be pink (with purple leaves) or white (with green leaves)

Colour: cherry blossoms can be dark pink, light pink, white, yellowish. The leaves are copper or green and come out usually after the flowers.

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Plum characteristics: When all the plum blossoms are open, you can’t see the buds – and it’s hard to see the grafts – so you’ll have to rely on the plum blossoms main characteristics:

  • fragrant (smell “flowery”)
  • no split at the end of the petals
  • dark trunk (with no horizontal lines)
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Cherry characteristics: There are over 54 varieties of cherry blossoms but they all share the same characteristics:

  • a split at the end of each petal
  • the light-grey trunk has horizontal bars

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Think you got it? Take the test!

 Cherry or plum blossoms?

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Answer: plum.

Purple leaves and no split at the end of the petals.

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Plum blossoms

Answer: plum.

No split at the end of petals. One flower coming out of the bud. Smells “flowery”.

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Answer: cherry.

Split at the end of the petals.

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Answer: cherry.

Horizontal lines on the bark.

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You might also like:

Cherry versus plum blossoms: What’s the difference (March 28, 2013)

How to tell the difference between cherry trees and plum trees (infographic)

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To learn how to identify 54 varieties of cherry blossoms, buy Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver, by Douglas Justice. Happy cherry blossom viewing!

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Whitcomb cherry trees in a park (Nicola/Pendrell)

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There are four Whitcomb cherry trees in full bloom in a small park located on Nicola (corner of Pendrell) in the West-End of Vancouver.

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Little birds are playing in the Whitcomb cherry blossoms, which makes it a really fun location.

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The blossoms are located high up in the trees: you’ll need a good zoom on your camera.

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Petals are already falling, so hurry up to see these beautiful cherry trees!

 

Find more Whitcomb cherry trees in your neighboorhood.

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Prunus Avium

Prunus avium

Prunus Avium are sweet cherry, also called Mazzard Cherry.

Prunus avium recurved petal

Prunus avium are easily recognizable by the recurved sepals (which means the leafy part that would usually cover the back of the flowers, like a star shape, is sticking up instead).

Prunus avium blossoms

Prunus Avium can be pretty, but we don’t consider them ornamental. They’re the European tree that’s used as the rootstock for a lot of our ornamental cherries, and cultivars of which provide the cherries we eat (like the “Bing” cherries).

Prunus Avium rootstock overtaken Kanzan cherry tree
Photo credit: Wendy Cutler.

Usually they come out at ‘Kanzan’ time, so you can see lots of trees that are half pink, half white, where the vigorous white avium rootstock trunk is starting to take over the ‘Kanzan’ on top. The two-tone trees are mid-takeover.

You’ll also see a street of pink ‘Kanzan’ with one white avium tree. That avium probably started life as a ‘Kanzan’.

For more description, see
Prunus Avium – Small singles, green leaves, large round tree, mid to late season

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Prunus Avium can be even more beautiful than ‘Akebono’ because generally they’re not grafted (well, in orchards, they’re grafted, as there are all those different eating cherry cultivars).

There are lots of other things to confuse them with – Sargentii hybrids (not in our book), O-yama-zakura (in our book as Sargentii), ‘Somei-yoshino’, but those trees usually bloom earlier than avium trees.

Some people may confuse them with ‘Tai Haku’, but that cultivar’s flowers are much larger. More likely, you will confuse them with pears and crab apples. Look at the bark, and look at the back of the blossoms.

Prunus avium blossoms

Avium is not in our book, but you’ll find a photo of Avium ‘Plena’, the double-flower variety, in  Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver.

(Source: information provided by Wendy Cutler).

To find out if there are prunus avium in your neighborhood, check out the VCBF cherry blossom viewing map.

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Photos

Burrard Station Update

Burrard skytrain station March 25 2013

At the Burrard skytrain station there are lots of cherry buds right now but only a  few cherry blossoms are open.

Burrard skytrain station March 25 2013

The Akebono cherry blossoms should be open by the end of this week.

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Akebono at Burrard station

Burrard station Akebono Mar 23 2013

This Akebono cherry tree located outside Burrard sky train station (facing Robson street) is starting to bloom.

It’s a great location to take pictures of budding blossoms but it’s essential that you go in the morning to catch the morning sun (otherwise the tree will be shaded by nearby buildings).

Burrard station Akebono Mar 23 2013

The light was just perfect this morning at 9.30am.

Burrard station Akebono Mar 23 2013

The cherry tree is mostly buds at the moment, but if you have a good zoom on your camera you can do closeups of fully formed blossoms.

Burrard station Akebono Mar 23 2013

These budding cherry blossoms will delight visitors in a few days!

Photography tips: great location to catch budding Akebono cherry blossoms. A few blossoms are also open. It’s essential to visit in the morning before the tree get shaded by neighboring buildings. (These pictures were taken at 9.30am).

Cherry blossom viewing tip:  wait 5-7 days to visit this location (the blossoms will be fully formed then).

Did you know? This Akebono cherry tree was planted by VCBF Director Linda Poole in March 2006. Look how tall it has grown since!

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Photos

First Accolade (Richards and Robson)

The rumors are true. There’s an Accolade cherry tree blossoming in January!  The tree is located on Richards street (corner Robson) right across from the Starbucks. Here are pictures I took this morning.

Tip: to find out where you can find Accolades cherry trees in Vancouver, check out the VCBF Cherry Blossom Viewing map.

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First Accolade

Are these big news – these ‘Accolade’ blossoms on Richards south of Robson? Apparently they are – CBC radio called Douglas Justice downtown to interview him about them. The interview should be on The Early Edition on Monday, January 21, some time between 5am and 9am.  Photo taken on Richards street south of Robson, across from Starbucks.

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First cherries in West End

Temperatures are below freezing and, yet, the first cherry blossoms are starting to come out at Lost Lagoon.  Beautiful!

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