• Andrew Robson

Entering the Ume Game

Ume is by far our favorite species that we've yet explore at RAKUYO, and recently we had the opportunity to acquire a few new Ume projects for our collection. Why do we love Ume? It has the best of everything we enjoy in bonsai.

- vibrant & scented flowers

- aged & textured bark

- intersting deadwood

- contrasting seasonality

The beautifully vibrant and sweet-scented flowers appear in the middle of winter when not much else is happening in the bonsai garden. It's one of the first trees in the New Year to flower, and for that reason it's celebrated during the New Year's Holiday. Its winter flowering attracts the attention from everything else horticulturally during the same time, dominating the moment. One of the most powerful images of an Ume is when it's flowering during the snow, a sight that's arrestingly beautiful and highly special. The aged and textured bark on an old Ume is almost conifer-like, and deeply attractive. Like a good bonsai, it matures slowly with time, making it something to be highly treasured once it appears. In addition to the fantastic bark, deadwood is often celebrated on Ume bonsai, a symbol of the will to survive as it's the longest lived of the fruit trees. The deadwood on Ume bonsai can either be from minimal/none-at-all, to highly active/dominating or anywhere in between. Although deadwood on deciduous bonsai is uncommon (and for good reasons), Ume is one of the few deciduous exceptions to feature strong, beautiful deadwood. Finally, the Ume tree has fantastic seasonality with lots of contrast between each season. Although the primary season to appreciate Ume is during winter flowering, they can look quite attractive with their lush green color and small leaves of a contrasting shape to many of the other deciduous bonsai on the bench.

What are the challenges of Ume?

- difficult to ramify

- slow to develop, especially the bark

- require regular grafting to maintain flowering shoots throughout

In Japan, the flowering time of Ume corresponds with the New Year, and Ume along with Pine and Bamboo are made into displayable arrangements for the holiday. Because of this, it's not uncommon to see potted Ume (not necessarily bonsai) all throughout Japan. Many of the best Ume in Japan displayed at the Kokufu Exhibition were once urban-yamadori. Although Ume is such an important plant to Japanese culture, it's not a Japanese native. It originates in China, and like many things it made its way to Japan. Ume was first domesticated in China over 3000 years ago, and the Japanese continued the work of cultivating Ume from a wild landscape plum to a decorated ornamental tree. While Ume are very common in Japan (both as bonsai, potted plants, and garden trees), Ume are very rare in the USA, something we hope to change.

japanese flowering apricot / ume - white single-flower

japanese flowering apricot / ume - pink double flower

So we're finally entering the Ume game here at RAKUYO, and we couldn't be more excited! Because we love this flowering-tree so much, you can look forward to hundreds being grown in our future nursery once it's built. Until then, we'll get started on transitioning these two Ume projects into beautiful bonsai.

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