Japanese apricot, Prunus mume

Scientific Name

Prunus is Latin for members of the plum family; mume is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese name for the plant.

Common Name

Japanese apricot is named for where the plant was first observed in cultivation and its relation to apricot. Other names include Japanese flowering apricot and Japanese flowering plum.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN AND NATIVE HABITAT

Japanese apricot is native to China. Trees grow in woods and rocky hills in moist, well-drained soils. Although P. mume is from China, it was first observed in cultivation in Japan. The tree was chosen the national flower of China in the 1930s. In China, the 5 petals represent the 5 blessings: wealth, health, love of virtue, old age and natural death. Japanese apricot is a member of the Rosaceae family. The Rosaceae family includes some 200 species.

CONSERVATION INFORMATION

Not native to Kentucky

DESCRIPTION

Growth Habit and Form

Japanese apricot is a small tree with a rounded to oval crown. Older trees have a gnarled branching structure and trunk. Japanese apricot grows to 25 feet in height with a similar spread.

Leaves

Leaves are simple, alternate, ovate, deep green, and 2 to 4 inches long. The leaves have finely, sharply toothed edges and wedge-shaped bases. The underside of the leaves have fine hairs on the veins. The deciduous leaves may turn yellowish in autumn before dropping.

Flowers

The 5-petaled flowers are 1 to 1 ¼ inches in diameter and occur singly or in pairs. The pale pink, fragrant flowers bloom between January and March before the leaves appear. Pollination is by insects.

Fruits

Fruits are yellow to orange, rounded drupes (fleshy fruits with a single seed). The fruits are 1 to 1 ¼ inches in diameter and contain a stony seed. The tart fruits are eaten and seeds are scattered by wildlife.

Bark

The rough stems are glossy green. The bark is smooth and brown.

Wild and Cultivated Varieties

Cultivars include:

‘Alba” with single, white flowers

‘Pendula’ has pale pink, single or semi-double flowers on pendulous branches.

‘Kobai’ has red, semi-double flowers.

‘Contorta’ has an unusual contorted form; the cultivar is often hard to find in trade.

HORTICULTURE

Landscape Use

Japanese apricot is a beautiful, long-lived small tree that is best used as a specimen.

Hardiness Zone

Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 9.

Growth Rate

Fast.

Cultivation and Propagation Information

Growth is best in moist, fertile, well-drained soils and full sun to partial shade. Flowering and fruiting is best in full sun. Young trees grow rapidly, at rates of 5 to 6 feet per year. Japanese apricot is easily rooted from softwood cuttings. Seed require a brief cold moist stratification.

Diseases and Insects

Japanese apricot is typically free of serious disease or insect problems. Borer infestation has been observed by authorities on grafted plants.

Wildlife Considerations

Maple trees provide homes, shelter and food for wildlife.

Maintenance Practices

Minimal attention given appropriate cultural conditions.

TRADITIONAL AND MODERN USES

The flowers have been represented in paintings, on ceramics and porcelain.

Flowers have also been used in embroidery for centuries.

The 5-petalled blossoms are the floral symbol of the month of January.

A sauce made from the fruits is sold as plum sauce in Chinese markets.

The fruits are used as a substitute for vinegar, pickled or made into wine.

Japanese apricot was introduced into cultivation in 1844.

Japanese Flowering Apricot

Category:

Edible Fruits and Nuts

Trees

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Foliage:

Deciduous

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us

Height:

15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)

Spacing:

15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us

Danger:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:

Pale Pink

Pink

Red

White/Near White

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Flowers are fragrant

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Winter/Early Spring

Mid Winter

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

Patent Information:

Unknown – Tell us

Propagation Methods:

From softwood cuttings

From seed; stratify if sowing indoors

By grafting

By budding

Seed Collecting:

Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds

Regional

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Fresno, California

Anderson, Indiana

Agency, Iowa

Ellicott City, Maryland

Burlington, North Carolina

Fayetteville, North Carolina

New Bern, North Carolina

Statesville, North Carolina

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Lexington, Virginia

Poquoson, Virginia

show all

Umeboshi 梅の実 Plum

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 10, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

What is Umeboshi?

Umeboshi are processed pickled plums, a Japanese specialty. Umeboshi plums are commonly referred to as Japanese apricots or Chinese plums. When cooked, they actually look and taste more like apricots than plums. The thumbnail photo here shows green, unripe plums. Upon ripening, the fruits will turn a natural apricot color; after processing, the color becomes a reddish-purple.

Umeboshi is prepared with a generous layering of salt and leaves from the 18 to 24-inch tall, annual, aromatic herb Shiso (Perilla frutescens). The pigments in red Shiso transform the fruits to their appealing reddish-purple, ‘plum’ shade.

Shiso is the Japanese name for Perilla. There are many Perilla cultivars, both red and green. The red varieties (Akajiso) are used to color umeboshi and are called beefsteak plant (Perilla fruitescens) because of their color.

  • Green Shiso has stronger essential oils and is commonly called ‘Aojiso’ or ‘Japanese Basil’. Green Perilla is used as a substitute for Sweet Basil.
  • Koreans call green Perilla ‘Kkaennip’ or Sesame leaf (no relation to sesame). The photo shows green perilla leaves getting prepared for a Korean dish called, Kkaennip Kimchi.
  • Perilla is an easy-to-grow garden plant that is a flavorful garnish or addition to many foods, including: sushi, sashimi, tempura, Kkaennip kimchi, stews, soups, rice, vegetables and salads.
  • Perilla self-sows in our South Jersey garden (zone 6b).

A word of Caution: Perilla should not be grown near animals such as horses, cattle or sheep. Ketones in the Perilla can cause toxicosis in some animals.

Plum Trees

Many species of fruit trees have similar reference names and can easily be confused with the tree from which Umeboshi (Ume) plums are grown. Ume plums come from the plum tree, Prunus mume. Prunus salicina and Prunus japonica (also called: Japanese bush cherry) are different species of plum trees.

Prunus mume trees are commonly called Japanese Apricot trees. They are native to China and Korea and were introduced to Japan from China. The trees are much loved as ornamentals, as well as for their fruits. The blossoms are fragrant and often depicted in Asian art.

The trees were introduced to Britain in the mid 19th century. Although not native to North America, these beautiful, 15 to 20-foot tall, deciduous Prunus mume trees can be successfully grown in USDA zones 6a-9b. They prefer fertile, acidic soil and full sun.

  • If you are thinking that you might want to try growing Japanese Apricot, be sure to check out the link below for an interesting article by gardener Meghan Ray from Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Ume Plum Products

In Japan, Ume plums are associated with the monsoon season, so much so that the rainy season is called ‘tsuyu’, meaning ‘Ume rain’. In February and March the fragrant blossoms are the first to signal the coming of Spring. The fruits are generally ready for harvesting by the end of June.

Plums for pickled products and ‘Umeshu’ (a plum liqueur), are picked green to ensure the finest quality, acidity and flavor. For eating fresh and for jams, they are allowed to ripen further to a rosy, apricot color. During plum harvest time, public parks host plum festivals and the local stores are well stocked with supplies for canning Ume jams and for making Umeshu, a tradition in Japanese culture.

Umeboshi is made from plums soaked overnight in water and then layered with salt and pressed. The plums pickle and ferment until the end of July. By July, the Shiso is ready to harvest. The pickles steep in vinegar with Shiso; then the final product is aged. This cumbersome process is often left for food processing companies. Umeboshi products can be found in Asian markets and health food stores.

Umeboshi Plums

The plums are said to have healing powers and are often used in Macrobiotic cooking and folklore medicines. In Japanese society Umeboshi plums are usually eaten with rice or as part of a bento (a common boxed meal usually containing rice, protein and veggies). The sweet and sour pickled plums are often served in ‘Onigiri’ (rice balls). The pit usually remains inside the plum, so beware!

I can remember my friend Vicki making Onigiri for us when we would travel to the Pocono mountains on day ski trips. We would munch on them for a healthy, low fat, energy boost. Onigiri is easy to make and convenient to bring on trips as a snack. The rice (we used brown rice) is held together with Nori (seaweed) similar to sushi rolls, except that the round shape fits in the palm of your hand and is more the size of a tennis ball.

Umeboshi Paste

Ume paste is a convenient spread that can be used to season sushi, grain salads, pasta salads, steamed vegetables and salad dressings; or it can be used as a thin spread atop hors’dourves and snacks featuring fresh vegetables such as cucumber slices.

Umeboshi Vinegar

Umeboshi vinegar is actually a by-product of the umeboshi pickled plum production. The red colored vinegar tastes fruity and salty and works well when used sparingly as a condiment to season many types of foods. My favorite use for Ume vinegar is in Italian Basil Pesto, which is delicious when added to corn-on-the-cob, vegetables, salad dressings, fish and chicken dishes.

A little goes a long way

Umeboshi products are all high in salt, due to the nature of how umeboshi is made. For example, Eden Foods, Inc. makes their Kosher Umeboshi vinegar from Ume plums, sea salt and Shisho leaves. One teaspoon of Eden® Umeboshi Plum Vinegar contains 1050mg of sodium. At first glance that sounds like a staggering amount of sodium. Actually, Ume vinegar contains less than half the amount of sodium in table salt. (One teaspoon (6g) of table salt contains 2325mg of sodium!) As long as this ingredient is used in moderation, you will be assured delicious, healthy, low sodium cuisine with great flavor and taste.

Umeboshi vinegar lasts for a long time when stored in a cool, dry, dark pantry and does not have to be refrigerated.

Photos: Thumbnail photo: Unripe Ume Fruits by Sekiuchi, Wikipedia, GNU Free Documentation License. P. mume blossom photo Copyright ©2009 by DG member ‘Growin’. Kkaennip Kimchi photo by Les, Wikimedia, GNU Free Documentation License. Green Umeboshi Plums, photo used with permission ©2009 Blue Lotus. Umeboshi Vinegar Copyright ©2009 ‘Wind’. All rights reserved.

Related Links:

  • Japanese Flowering Apricot, by Meghan Ray, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Prunus mume, Japanese Apricot, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • 梅酒 Umeshu recipe, Blue Lotus Blog-Tokyo, great photographs of Umeboshi Plums
  • Ume Jam recipe, Blue Lotus Blog-Tokyo
  • Umeboshi Japanese Plum information and popular plum tree locations in and around Tokyo

The Most Beautiful Blooms of Winter

Carolyn Choi

Carolyn Choi of Chapel Hill, North Carolina is a fabulous painter, uber-patriot, accomplished gardener, and Grumpy’s friend. So when she published a photo on Facebook of this beautiful tree blooming in her garden right now, only one logical response presented itself—rip off the picture (with credit, of course) and tell you more about it.

Few people know Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), because unlike flowering peach, pear, and cherry, in most places where it grows well (USDA Zones 6-9), it doesn’t bloom in spring. It blooms in the depth of winter. Sometimes it pays a price for this, as sudden arctic blasts torch the open flowers, but then it always seems to pop open some more later.

The fragrant, spicy flowers may be single or double in colors of red, white, or pink. The most popular selection, ‘Peggy Clarke,’ boasts double deep-pink blossoms and is shown above in Carolyn’s garden. Japanese apricot eventually develops into a gnarled, picturesque tree 15 to 20 feet tall and wide. It’s generally tougher and longer-lived than most other flowering fruit trees. Not a true apricot, it bears small, tart fruit from which you can make jelly and jam.

Give Japanese apricot full to part sun and acid soil. Good drainage is essential. It’s more likely to be found at a good local garden center than a big box store. It’s also available online from Camellia Forest Nursery and Whitman Farms.

Ask the Grump! No question goes unanswered on his Facebook page.

Thanks for posting, Carolyn! Your imaginary check for 10 Grumpy Drachma is on its way.

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