Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cherry Blossoms

Centenary Cherry

Some of you may be surprised to know that the Cherry tree belongs to family Rosaceae and has common relatives like the peach, plum, apple, apricots, almonds etc. To an untrained eye, a peach tree in flower looks similar to a cherry tree and hence a mix up in identifying is very common. But then, they also belong to the same genus.
The family Rosaceae is a large flowering group and several edible fruits come from this family. Prunus cerasoides commonly called as the Himalayan Cherry or Paiyun or Kongki-Kung figures amongst the most prominent of flowering trees. It is indeed a tree suitable for aesthetic plantation. It stays evergreen and in winters when everything is dull and dry, its blossoms to decorate the highways and townships of Sikkim. The cherry tree of Sikkim is planted widely for avenues plantation.
Prunus Carmesiana
Prunus cerasiodes has blossoms with five petals. It is light pink in colour. There is a peculiarity in flowering. Flowering starts from 7,000 ft to 8,000 ft in Sikkim from the first week of November and proceeds down to 5,000ft in the 2nd week and on the 3rd week to 3,000-4,000ft. After the flowering is over, new leaves emerge from the 3rd and 4th week of November.
Simultaneously with Prunus, blooms Erythrina arborescence or Phaledo. An attractive tree with leaves intact when it blooms.
Prunus serasoides
 We also have an April flowering cherry tree called Prunus carmesiana with a darker shade of pink, the flowers of which are pendulous. Commonly referred to as the Geyzing type of Cherry, this nick- name possibly stuck because a tree is found at the complex of the resident of the Divisional Forest Officer of Geyzing which has been serving as mother tree, the seeds of which are collected and planted in forest nurseries. It has dark pink pendulous flowers. In Gangtok one tree can be seen standing alone at the road to Zero Point and another at the parking lot of Forest Secretariat.
I wish to quote a few lines from the book “The Life and Times of Plantsman in the Sikkim Himalaya” by KC Pradhan: “Sikkim does have a spring flowering cherry, a variant of Prunus ceracoides botanically P. carmesiana (syn. P. ceracoides var. rubra). In the early 1960s our lovable plant connoisseur Tse Ten Tashi coined it P.denzongensis”. The book further claims that it was distributed to various arboretums in Europe and still holds it by the name of P. denzongensis.
Further the book reads, “It was first observed by Sir Basil Gould Political Officer and his father (Forest manager- Rai Saheb Bhim Bhadur) between Singhik and Toong in North Sikkim. Its real habitat being the Dzenga Reserve Forest in North Sikkim opposite Menshithang and I had an occasion to see the whole area ablaze with red well mixed with Poplar during one of my visit”
Now along with P. carmesiana, blooms the reddish Erythrina stricta, the flowers red and upright and trees entirely devoid of leaves when it blooms. An exciting find on a trip to Namchi on Nov. 2010, a pure white coloured cherry tree was noted by S.T. Lachungpa. This is the first white cherry reported in Sikkim and incidentally it co-incided with the 100 years celebrations of the Forest Department and was aptly nick-named the “Centenary Cherry”
Besides being a very beautiful tree the Cherry tree finds many uses. It’s a good fodder and fuel tree. It is one of the popular food sources for birds, bees and small rodents. The Cherry is a good shade tree for cardamom plantations at higher elevation where it suffers from frost and snow-bite. Prunus protects the cardamom when leafing starts during winter. It protects the cardamom field in drought prone areas since it provides shade when all other trees are bereft of leaves. The honey produced during the season of cherry blossom is of the best clear variety. Fruits are edible but bitter in taste.
 A popular Japanese cherry called “Sakura” is now finding its place in Sikkim’s landscape. This was introduced for the first time during the coronation of Chogyal Palden Thendup Namgyal. The second time was sometime in 1989 in the form of scions and grafted at a private nursery. The Department of Forest is now promoting the plantation of grafted varieties of Sakura in certain districts. There are basically two varieties introduced in Sikkim. Trees with blossoms more that five petals are called “yae-zakura”. Cherry trees with more than five petals are typically the last one to open their blossoms. The Department of Forests in its programme the “State Green Mission” has planted lakhs of cherry seedlings over the years, many of which have started blooming. If we continue this trend Sikkim can also think of having a “Cherry Blossom Festival” honouring our very own species of Cherry tree.
In Japan, the cherry blossom is widely celebrated, they have a “Cherry Festival” name “Hanami” which is a practice of picnicking below the cherry trees. This tree is reported to having a special significance in the Japanese Culture. I have personally witnessed a Japanese song being played by ladies in kimono over a traditional Japanese musical instrument praising the cherry tree. I was told that the song is very popular among the locals. Influenced by the Buddhist belief of impermanent and transient nature of all things. The cherry tress blossom with great beauty and dies soon after. This change-over symbolizes mortality of all things. It is also symbolizes “clouds” because whole tree blossoms at one go. In fact during World War II, cherry blossoms was used by the Japanese to inspire a sense of Nationalism and unity in the army. The soldiers were encouraged to believe that the souls of deceased were reincarnated in the blossoms. They also planted cherry trees as a means of claiming an area as Japanese territory. For instance, in China where cherry is naturally found, the two most famous cherry parks there reflect the brief occupation of China by the Japanese. The trees were also introduced in South Korea at time of Japanese occupation, which was however destroyed after the Japanese left.
Cherry trees have also been used as a symbol of friendship with other nations. E.g. the Japanese donated thousands of cherry trees as a gesture of goodwill to the United States which has been planted in Manhattan in the Sakura Park. Similarly such instances of strengthening bond through Sakura with other nations by the Japanese are numerous. Likewise these countries also celebrate with grandeur with the Cherry Blossom Festival. The blossom and leaves also feature in Japanese food ingredient. A special rice cake called “Sakuramochi” is topped with leaf from sakura tree, “sakurayu” is Cherry Blossom tea.
If you are interested in planting the cherry tree here are some golden rules to ensure 100% success. In case of P. ceracoides plantation is to be done during the period of dormancy ie. immediately before the flowering bud sprouts, which is sometime in the month of September. The seedlings should be uprooted carefully and all unnecessary roots should be pruned back and also shoot growth up to the second year pruned back. If plantation is being carried out in the month of June-July, only poly-bag seedlings should be used. Same for P. carmesiana.
Happy planting this season.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! i didn't know that cherry trees can be found in sikkim . well can I grow cherry trees in lucknow (I don't think this is possible but if I can then please help me where can I buy cherry seeds.


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