Prunus mume is native to China, Korea, Japan, and the northern parts of Laos and Vietnam. It grows alongside streams, in sparse forests, and on rocky slopes from 1700 to 3100m in elevation. The species is commonly known as mei flower, mume, ume, Chinese plum, Japanese flowering plum, and Japanese apricot.
At 4.5 to 6m tall and the same distance across, this small tree has a rounded form and a fast-growing habit. The younger bark is a glossy bright green, but matures to be smooth and grey to cinnamon-coloured. The deep green leaves are ovate and serrulate, with downy hairs appearing on the leaf underside’s veins. In autumn, the leaves colour yellow.
Locally, the bright, clove-scented blossoms open from January to March, before the leaves appear. Depending on the cultivar, flowers may be single or double, with petals in shades ranging from white through rose to dark pink. The flowers are insect-pollinated and are hermaphroditic, with three cream to yellow stamens associated with each petal. These red-sepalled flowers may reach up to 2-2.5 cm across.
Prunus mume blossoms have special significance in China, where the five petals represent the blessings of wealth, health, love of virtue, longevity, and peaceful death. The blossoms are also the national flower of Taiwan. Historically, they have been depicted in art forms including embroidery, paintings and ceramics.
The fuzzy green to orange apricot-like 3cm-in-diameter fruits ripen over the summer. In Japan, they are either often pickled or salted and dried to make umeboshi or preserved by smoking. The sour juice left over from the salting process is sometimes used as a vinegar substitute. The fruits can also be made into wine and various sauces. Traditionally, the fruit is used to treat indigestion, roundworms, dysentery, bronchitis, chronic coughs, fungal skin infections, and to stop bleeding. Green dyes are made from both the leaves and the fruit, while the flowers are sometimes used to flavour tea.
Prunus mume is commonly cultivated for its fruit and flowers. The species is recommended for use as a specimen tree. It can also be grown as a bonsai. Japanese apricot grows best in full sun to partial shade in well-drained, acidic soils. While it is susceptible to bacterial canker, brown rot, verticillium wilt, and honey fungus, the tree is very likely to overcome these if it is grown in fertile soil. It can be grown from seed or propagated from softwood cuttings taken in early summer. Cultivars available in North America include ‘Nicholas’, ‘Kobai’, ‘Contorta’, and ‘Peggy Clarke’.
Note from Daniel: This is an entry written by a work-learn student, Madeline Iseminger, who was writing entries while the site wasn’t up. As a reminder, we’re now including authors of the entries and the photo thank-yous in the smaller text above the image(s). Also, you should now be able to click on the single images (in entries with single images) to get a larger version, if one exists.