A Special Cherry Tree

Today’s post is about the Okame cherry, which is one of the first cherry trees to bloom in my area. Its official Latin name is Prunus x incamp, but I always call it by its more easily-remembered common name, the Okame cherry. A cross between  Prunus incisa and Prunus campanulata, this tree is one of the few cherry trees I am happy to recommend planting in a residential garden.

Prunus x incamp, Okame cherry

A young Okame cherry in a front yard garden in northwest Washington, DC

Unlike many other cherries, the Okame is relatively pest- and disease-resistant, giving the designer confidence that it can be planted without worrying about it being short-lived. Its blossoms  – a rich but not screaming rose-pink – appear before the leaves in early spring. (Only the Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ cherry, a cousin of the famous weeping cherry, blooms earlier.)
Because the blooms’ calyxes – which bud out before the blossoms appear – are also pink, the tree gives the appearance of being in bloom longer than is actually the case.

Prunus Okame, Prunus x incamp, calyx

A close-up look at the dark red calyxes that precede the opening blossoms on an Okame cherry

Prunus x incamp, Okame cherry, blossoms

The blossoms of the Okame cherry

Like other cherries, Okames have distinctive horizontally-lenticiled bark.

Prunus x incamp, Okame cherry bark

Note the horizontal banding on the Okame's bark.

In the right site, Okames are fast growers. Don’t plant them too close together. At maturity, they can easily reach a width of 20-30′ (and a height of 15-20′, although I have seen them taller).

Prunus x incamp, Okame cherry

In this garden, designed early on in my career, I made the mistake of planting two Okames less than 10' on center. Lesson learned, although the homeowner loves having them both.

So do give them lots of sun and room to grow. Fall color? Not so much here, although apparently farther north the leaves will turn attractive hues of red and gold, if you’re lucky. Good for Southern gardens, too, I’ve read, since they have a low chilling requirement. So if you’re looking for a tree that will give your garden an early start to spring, take a close look at the Okame. You won’t be sorry.

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10 Comments on “A Special Cherry Tree”

  1. Laurrie Says:

    Love this post! I am anxiously awaiting the blooms on my Okame cherry, but it’s still too cold in New England. Mine is planted right by the front door, and your post tells me I have not given it enough room (it’s still small, I guess I’ll have some pruning to do). But I absolutely love it. The blooms are such a soft pink and I do get spectacular orange and red fall color up here. I think mine will burst forth in a week, but meanwhile I am ogling your lovely pictures.

    • Melissa Says:

      Laurrie, so nice to hear you get good fall color. Here it’s usually kind of a mild yellow or gold. So for you it’s a real four-season tree! And enjoy it this spring. It’s supposed to snow here tomorrow, can you believe it?

  2. Liz Reed Says:

    I love cherry trees but know very little about them. Thanks for the specific recommendation! Maybe I’ll become braver about using them. I’m working on drawing plans right now and have just the spot for one!!!


    • Melissa Says:

      I do think you and your client would like this one. I love the jolt of early spring color. Planning to include them in a design for a pergola area near a swimming pool, far less messy than the crape myrtles that get used so often around here.

      • Liz Reed Says:

        We’re only just starting to see crape myrtles in the nurseries in pgh. I think new varieties are more cold hardy. Still, you see very few in home landscapes, so I have not yet learned that they are messy. Messy shape? Messy leaf dropping?

  3. That is a lovely looking tree, I generally prefer white flowering cherries, but the red calyxes add a great extra dimension.

    • Melissa Says:

      Yes, this color is gorgeous. The white Yoshinos that bloom around the Tidal Basin here are spectacular but their bloom period is very limited, another reason I like to use the Okames.

  4. I have always wanted a cherry tree. I wish this one was a bit smaller in size. It sounds perfect.

  5. icesnow Says:

    I just planted a beautiful young Okame which came 12′ in a pot. Its tall and lovely and I am so glad to have it in my yard here in NY. I would like to know whether I should fertilize this tree now or wait til spring, and if so what kind would you recommend?

    • Melissa Says:

      I’m sorry, but your question is a little out of my range of expertise. In general, you shouldn’t need to fertilize trees that have been planted in good soil.

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