How many types of sakura are there? Most Common and Rarely Seen Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Tako
2022/04/01

Have you ever wondered how many kinds of sakura there are in Japan? Did you know there are also green and yellow coloured sakura? In this article, we introduce to you not just the most common types of sakura and how to identify them, we also cover early/late blooming sakura, and sakura that don’t even look like sakura.


Table of Contents

  1. How many types of sakura are there?
    1. How are there so many?
  2. Most Common Types of Sakura
    1. Somei-Yoshino ソメイヨシノ(染井吉野)
    2. Yama-zakura 山桜
    3. Shidare-zakura 枝垂桜
    4. Edohigan-zakura 江戸彼岸桜
  3. Early Blooming and Late Blooming Sakura
    1. Kawazu-zakura 河津桜
    2. Yae-zakura 八重桜
    3. Chishima-zakura チシマザクラ(千島桜)
  4. I can’t believe it’s sakura! Sakura that don’t look like sakura. 
    1. Gyoiko 御衣黄
    2. Yae-zakura 八重桜
    3. Ukon-zakura 鬱金桜
  5. Takeaway

How many types of sakura are there?

There are more than 600 types of cherry blossoms in Japan at the moment. 

How are there so many? 

Originally, there were around 10 or so base wild specieses but the number grew to 100 or so after natural cross-breeding between different plant varieties. Through horticulture, another 200 or so cherry blossom species were introduced. And from there, the numbers just kept on increasing as they naturally cross-bred to around 600 now. 

Most Common Types of Sakura

Somei-Yoshino ソメイヨシノ(染井吉野)

The most common and most popular type of cherry blossom in Japan. Somei-Yoshino are characterised by their 5 pink almost white petals to each flower. They usually grow in small clusters of at least 3~5 flowers. Its stamens are yellow to orange in colour.

Somei-Yoshino also carries a special meaning. Orderliness is important to Japanese who strive for systematic approaches in life, and Somei-Yoshino is the perfect living representation of that. Somei-Yoshino sakura leaves and flowers don’t grow at the same time. Their leaves only start growing after the flowers have budded and blossomed. 

Another thing to know about Somei-Yoshino is that due to the large number of them, cherry blossom blooming predictions are based on when Somei-Yoshino are going to blossom. 

Yama-zakura 山桜

 

Yama-zakura are a wild species of sakura found all across Japan typically in mountainous areas, thus its name Yama-zakura that directly translates to “mountain sakura”. It is one of the oldest species of sakura in Japan and is “ancestor” to many “modern” sakura species that have crossbred with it.

Yama-zakura produce flowers in a colour range of white to soft pink. The flowers are almost identical to Somei-Yoshino, not surprising considering it is its ancestor. The difference is that Yama-zakura’s flowers grow at the same time as its leaves. 

Shidare-zakura 枝垂桜

Shidare-zakura translates to “weeping cherry blossoms” due to its similar appearance to a weeping tree, like weeping willow, with branches that droop down at the tips. It makes for a beautiful sight during sakura season when the droopy branches are now covered with sakura flowers that now resemble a sakura curtain. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by WeXpats🌏 (@wexpats_japan)

Shidare-zakura are not actually a species of cherry blossom. Rather, it is a term used to identify all cherry blossom trees with “weeping” characteristics. Some shidare-zakura specieses are 

  • Ito-shidare 糸枝垂れ

  • Shidare-yamazkura 枝垂れ山桜

  • Beni-shidare 紅枝垂れ

Some of the best places to find Shidare-zakura include:

Edohigan-zakura 江戸彼岸桜

Edohigan is another primitive (and wild) species of sakura, like Yama-zakura. Edohigan trees have very long lives with many of Japan’s oldest sakura trees belonging to the Edohigan species. 

The oldest cherry blossom tree in Japan, the Jindai-zakura 神代桜 (above image), is a 2000 years old Edohigan-zakura tree.  

Aside from its incredibly long life, Edohigan is also known for having its flowers grow first before the leaves come in, just like the Somei-Yoshino. Not surprisingly because the Somei-Yoshino is a descendant of the Edohigan-zakura and inherited this gene, though the Edohigan’s petals are more oval in shape. 

Early and Late Blooming Sakura

Kawazu-zakura 河津桜

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Kawazu-zakura are the earliest blooming sakura, blossoming around early February until early March. They are named after the place where they were first discovered - Kawazu in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Kawazu-zakura have 5 petals to each flower, each petal is slightly larger than other types of sakura. What makes them stand out from the other species is their darker shade of pink. Their stemens in the centre are also a very dark, almost maroon red, pink. 

Yae-zakura 八重桜

Photo Credit: Kenrokuen / ©Ishikawa Prefecture Japan

Yae-zakura bloom quite late, blossoming around mid March until early April. Similar to the Shidare-zakura, Yae-zakura is a general term for sakura that have more than the usual 5 petals. 

Photo Credit: Hirano Shrine

Some species of Yae-zakura include Kanzan 関山 and Kiku-zakura 菊桜.                        

Chishima-zakura チシマザクラ(千島桜)

Photo Credit: 根室市観光協会

Chishima-zakura are the latest blooming sakura, partly due to their location, blossoming last at around late April to mid March. They mainly grow in the Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions, particularly in mountainous areas. Nemuro City in Hokkaido is particularly famous for them with many visitors during Golden Week (a long stretch of public holidays) going to see them.

Chishima-zakura flowers have a colour range of white to soft pink to dark pink. Their petals are longer and more oval shaped. The Chishima-zakura is very short, more like a shrub than a tree with its branches growing in all directions which makes them unsuitable for roadside planting.

I can’t believe it’s sakura! Sakura that don’t look like sakura. 

Gyoiko 御衣黄

Green coloured sakura are still sakura. Gyoiko is a rare green coloured sakura that blooms from mid to end April. Aside from green, it may also appear yellow (very light green) or green with a red centre. 

Photo Credit: Hirano Shrine

In Japanese, Gyoi (御衣) means “imperial clothing”. Gyoiko’s name is derived from olden day garments worn by imperials that are usually yellow (黄) in colour. Some places to see Gyoiko include:

Yae-zakura 八重桜

Photo Credit: Hirano Shrine

A repeat from the above section but Yae-zakura deserves a mention here. Typically when one thinks of sakura, the image of Somei-Yoshino would come to mind with its 5 petaled blossoms. However, the entire cherry blossom group of Yae-zakura goes against that general idea of what a sakura looks like with its multi-petaled blossoms. 

In fact, Yae-zakura 八重桜 directly translates into “multilayered/doubled sakura” which makes its appearance self-explanatory. 

Ukon-zakura 鬱金桜

Photo Credit: Moricoro Park / © 2022愛・地球博記念公園(モリコロパーク)

Ukon-zakura are another type of rare coloured-sakura. They are a light yellow colour. Another interesting thing about the flower is that it slowly turns pink after blossoming. Just like Gyoiko, Ukon-zakura are frequently unidentifiable as sakura, and also bloom around mid to end of April.            

Ukon-zakura are few in number, some places to see them in Tokyo include:

Takeaway

It’s quite interesting to know that there are so many types of sakura out there isn’t it? And to think these are only a tinny-tiny fraction of hundreds of sakura species. Why not study up on the different types of sakura? Who knows, you might just become a cherry blossom expert the next time you go hanami.

Writer

Tako
Hailed from Malaysia, living in Tokyo. Anime, manga, travel, and food lover. Just doing my best to survive. 一生懸命生きています。

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