Cherry Blossom Vs Plum Blossom: How to Tell Them Apart?

Last spring, I had one of the best times of my life. Some of my foreign friends came to my homeland Japan for a vacation. And I felt pleased to make them wander around Japan’s famous places with me.

They were overwhelmed by the beauty of this country and especially stunned by the loveliness of different blossoms. But, while exploring flowering parks, one of my friends mistook plum blossoms for cherry blossoms.

Well, it wasn’t surprising as they look quite similar from far and anyone can get confused with the appearance.

And when I told my friend that those aren’t cherry blossoms but rather plum flowers, he immediately questioned, what is the difference between a cherry and a plum blossom?

Then I explained the variance to him, and I think this fact should be shared with my dearjapanese.com readers too. So, today, I will highlight the difference here through my cherry blossom vs plum blossom writing.

Cherry Blossom Vs Plum Blossom: Learn How to Differentiate Them

Cherry blossoms (Sakura in Japanese) and plum (ume/Japanese apricot) bloom vividly in Japan during the spring season.

Both of them look stunning, and you may have a hard time identifying which is which as they have almost identical features. Even their trees look quite similar.

But the real thing is that plum blossoms and cherry blossoms aren’t the same. You can differentiate them by their shapes and appearance.

Difference of cherry blossom and plum blossom

First, I am presenting a table from which you can see their key differences side by side.

Side By Side Comparison

The below table shows their variance based on various terms.

Terms of Comparison Cherry Blossom Plum Blossom
Japanese Name
Sakura
Ume
Blooming Period
From late March to April
From mid-February to March
Petal
Spiky
Rounded petals with no spike
Buds
Oval shaped
Rounded
Fragrance
light or faint
Strong, flowery
Colors of flowers
Commonly white, light/dark pink, and yellowish
Usually white, pink, and red
Bark
Has small horizontal lines
Has no lines
Leaves
Folded
Rolled
The shape of Tree
Umbrella-shape
Rounded shape

The above table is just a preview by which you may not be able to tell them apart instantly.

Rows of cherry blossoms trees
Rows of cherry blossoms trees

So, I am presenting all these facts in a detailed way for your better understanding.

Alright, let’s start our descriptive comparison.

Easy Ways to Differentiate Them from Each Other

Go through the below segments, and hopefully, you will be able to distinguish them at the end.

1. Blooming Time & Meaning of Plum Vs Cherry

Plum blossoms are bright flowers that show the arrival of spring. It comes earlier than the other spring flowers, and you will see them sprouting from mid-February till March.

Blooming plum blossom
Blooming plum blossom

This flower holds a meaning of perseverance, hope, as well as purity, beauty, and transitoriness of life.

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Ume flowers are also related to the Japanese bush warbler (a bird) that appears in a traditional Japanese card game called Hanafuda. It is believed that plum blossoms can drive away evil. 

Flowering plum in garden
Flowering plum in the garden

That’s why plum trees are usually planted in the northeast direction of a garden from which direction evils are said to be entered.

On the other hand, sakura (or cherry blossom) is the representative flower of spring in Japan. It starts to bloom from the last week of March and stays till April.

Blooming cherry blossom
Blooming cherry blossom

It symbolizes renewal and hope as well as the beauty of heart and accomplishment. Cherry flowers also represent the upcoming rice planting season.

Blooming cherry symbolize hope
Blooming cherry symbolize hope

So, as you can see, both these flowers have different blooming times. Yet, there are some types of cherry flowers that start to flourish in February.

Hmm, then what to do? Confusing, right?

Well, don’t worry. The petals of both plum and cherry are different, which can help you distinguish them.

2. The difference in Petal Appearance

If you take a look closely, you will notice that the cherry blossom has a spiky feature at the end of its petals. And plum flowers have rounded petals with no spike.

Sometimes, the part that curves inwards on the sakura will be subtle and/or small. Hence, be sure to take a close look which will assist you in seeing the difference in the petals.

Petal difference of cherry blossoms and plum blossoms

Just have a glance at the pictures, and you will be able to see that cherry flowers have a split at the end of each petal.

3. Look for The Buds Variance

The buds of plum flowers are rounded just like it has round petals. In contrast, cherry blossom’s buds have an oval shape.

Buds of cherry blossoms and plum blossoms

Moreover, multiple flowers/buds will appear on each stem of the cherry blossom, while only one bud/flower comes out of each stem of the plum blossom.

cherry and plum flowers in each stem

I will say that observing the buds’ looks is one of the easiest ways to know which flower is which among these two.

If you don’t know what a bud is, it’s an undeveloped flower that can usually be found at the tip of the stem. You will see a bit of pink to magenta color on the bud, which is the flower.

4. Smell The Flowers

Most of the cherry blossoms have a light/faint fragrance, with a few exceptions of some rare mid-season trees.

Cherry blossom with faint fragrannce
Cherry blossom with faint fragrannce

But plum flowers have a sweet, flowery aromatic smell that will immediately draw your attention!

Aromatic smell of plum blossom
Aromatic smell of plum blossom

Therefore, if you smell a flower that has a strong flowery scent, you are most likely fascinated with an ume tree.

5. Notice The Color Variation

There are numerous varieties of flowering cherry trees. However, the most common colors of cherry flowers are white, light/dark pink, and yellowish.

Different colored cherry flowers
Different colored cherry flowers

Plum trees also have white or pink blossoms, but they can be red-colored as well.

Different colored plum blossom
Different colored plum blossom

So, if you see a red flower, then it’s most probably a plum blossom.

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6. Look at The Leaves of The Tree

Another distinct point to differentiate between sakura and ume is based on their leaves’ appearance.

Cherry blossoms have the usual green leaves, ranging from light green to darker shades. But, plum blossoms generally have red to purple leaves.

Colors of leaves of cherry blossom and plum blossom
Colors of leaves of cherry blossom and plum blossom

Note that ornamental cherry trees do have red leaves in autumn, but they don’t flourish at that time.

Besides that, both of their leaves have a different look. The leaves of a plum-blossom tree are rolled, while the cherry blossom leaves appear to be folded.

Leaves appearance of cherry and plum blossom
Leaves appearance of cherry and plum blossom

The cherry tree’s leaves come out after they flourish, but the plum tree’s leaves come out as they bloom.

7. Check The Shape of The Tree from Far

Stand a little far from the tree and look at its shape. Generally, plum trees have an overall rounded shape.

Plum blossom tree
Plum blossom tree

On the contrary, cherry trees also look round, but they resemble more of an umbrella shape. Also, some sakura trees have their flowers hanging around, making them look like a fountain.

Cherry blossom tree umbrella shape
Cherry blossom tree umbrella shape

Thus, if you see a tree that has either an umbrella or fountain-like shape, it’s most likely a cherry blossom tree. And in case you see a more rounder tree, it’s probably plum.

8. Observe The Bark of The Tree from Closer

One more simple way to know the variance is by looking at both of the trees’ bark.

The flowering sakura tree’s bark will have small horizontal lines on it, and the color of the bark is a light shade of gray. These lines are called “lenticels.”

Cherry blossom tree with small horizontal bark
Cherry blossom tree with small horizontal bark

However, the plum blossom tree’s bark has a darker shade of gray color with no lines on it. Shortly, the bark of plum trees looks more like a normal tree’s bark.

Plum blossom tree bark
Plum blossom tree bark

9. Placing of Grafts

On plum blossom trees, grafts are placed on the branches and stick straight up.

And for the cherry tree, grafts are set on the upper trunk.

10. Fruits of The Trees

All wild types of cherry blossom trees produce small, inedible fruit or edible cherries, which appear during the summer. Edible cherries that come from cultivars of the related species are for humans.

The inedible ones are too sour for people to eat, but birds do like them.

Bird on cherry blossom tree
Bird on cherry blossom tree

Conversely, ornamental plum trees produce little or no fruit as they start to bloom earlier. However, after maturity, they produce fruit that is edible and used in making juices, pickles, jellies, sauce, and many more.

It is also used in making traditional medicine.

Anyway, that’s all for the comparison part. And I hope you will be able to distinguish between them through the mentioned facts.

In case you are planning a tour to Japan, I will say you should definitely see both of these flowers.

Cherry blossom in Japan
Cherry blossom in Japan

Now, the question is, where shall you go to see these beautiful flowers?

Well, don’t worry as I am gonna mention some famous places where you can find them.

Famous Cherry Blossom & Plum Blossom Viewing Spot

With the arrival of cherry blossoms, we Japanese people celebrate the Hanami Festival, where we gather in the park with family and friends to view the mesmerizing beauty of the sakura flower.

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If you come here during the month of April, you will surely catch the best view of flowering cherries all around Japan.

Mount Yoshino Cherry blossom
Mount Yoshino Cherry blossom

Some of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots are:

  1. Mount Yoshino (in Nara)
  2. Himeji Castle (in Kansai)
  3. Ueno Park (in Tokyo)
  4. Shinjuku Gyoen (in Tokyo)
  5. Chidorigafuchi Moat (in Tokyo)
  6. Kawaguchiko (nearby Mount Fuji)
  7. Goryokaku Tower (in Hokkaido)
  8. Daigoji Temple (in Kyoto)
  9. Hirosaki Park (in Aomori Prefecture)
  10. Senkoji Park (in Hiroshima)

All of the above places provide a jaw-dropping view of cherry blossoms, and the moment you see them, you will feel like entering into a pink wonderland!

Pink cherry blossom pathway
Pink cherry blossom pathway

Well, plum blossoms aren’t any less in terms of beauty too. You may visit the below places to have the best view of ume flowers.

  1. Kairakuen Park (in Ibaraki)
  2. Yushima Tenmangu (in Tokyo)
  3. Imperial Palace East Gardens (in Tokyo)
  4. Atami Plum Garden (in Shizuoka)
  5. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (in Kyoto)
  6. Tsukigase Plum Valley (in Nara)
  7. Korakuen (in Okayama)
  8. Dazaifu Tenmangu (in Fukuoka)
Plum blossom in Japan
Plum blossom in Japan

Alright, by far, you got all the details on sakura vs plum blossom.

But, there is another flower that looks almost similar to these two flowers, which is the peach blossom.

You already know how to tell the difference between plum and cherry blossom. Now, I want to add the characteristics of peach blossom too, so that you don’t mix up all the three flowers.

So, check the information below.

A Quick Overview of Peach Blossoms That Also Look Similar to These

Peach blossoms (Momo in Japanese) start to flourish in March. This blooming period matches Hina Matsuri (Girl’s Day in Japan) on March 3rd.

Peach blossoms
Peach blossoms

Historically, peach flowers began to bloom at this time. That’s why the occasion is also recognized as Momo no Sekku, or ‘peach blossom festival.”

These flowers were said to work as charms to drive away evil spirits. Thus they became used as decoration during Girl’s Day.

Japanese Momo or peach blossom
Japanese Momo or peach blossom

Anyway, as you got a slight idea about them, let’s move on to their features.

  • Blooming period: From Early March to late April.
  • Petals: Their petals have sharp points.
  • Flowers in one branch: Two flowers grow on one branch.
  • Color: Their colors vary by plant and type. Usually, white, pink, or red flowers are seen. Even different colored flowers might grow on one tree.
  • Scent: It has a sweet and mild fragrance, which you may smell from both the flowers and the leaves.
  • Famous spots to see them: Koga Park (in Ibaraki), Fuefuki City (in Yamanashi), Weeping Peach Blossoms of Kaminaka (in Aichi), Nagano Chikumagawa Beach (in Nagano).

Okay, it’s time for the final verdict since there is nothing to add to this discussion.

Conclusion

After going through this cherry blossom vs plum blossom comparison, I hope you can finally tell them apart from each other.

Although I have provided photos so that it becomes easy for you to know the difference, I suggest you hold both their flowers in hand to witness the variance for a better understanding.

Lastly, I wish you to come to our homeland Japan and enjoy the beauty of these flowers along with other attractions. Hopefully, you will be here soon.

Take care…