Japanese Flowering Apricot
(when it’s chilly outside)
Before the long-awaited deluge of springtime flowers next month, there are a handful of shrubs and trees that vie for our attention in mid-winter. These flowering stalwarts of the winter landscape must withstand the vagaries of winter that wreak havoc on blooming camellias and wintersweet. Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) beautifully rises to these challenging conditions.
Japanese flowering apricot is an extremely popular small tree in its native countries of China and Japan. I last counted 323 named cultivars that produce single or double flowers in white through shades of pink to red.
Because it blooms even earlier than peaches, the open flowers and swelling buds can be killed by hard freezes. However, this tree produces so many flower buds on its bare branches that unopened buds usually replace those lost to cold.
Japanese flowering apricot aficionados mention the spicy fragrance of the one-inch blooms. When it’s cold, the flowers smell like lip balm to me. During a warm spell or when I bring a few flowering twigs indoors, I am embraced by a rosy-cinnamon scent.
During the growing season you may notice a few green to yellow inedible apricots interspersed among the green leaves. While Japanese apricot is kin to the commercially important common apricot (Prunus armeniaca), Prunus mume has no culinary value. This ornamental offers a second season of interest when the leaves turn an attractive light yellow in the fall.
A mature Japanese flowering apricot sports a vase-shape with a rounded canopy. Expect a height and spread of 25 ft. For a spectacular floral display, choose a location in full sun, although partial sun is tolerable. Consider a spot near a walkway or patio where Japanese apricot can titillate your visual and olfactory senses when you need it most: in the dead of winter.