A pretty flowering tree for either lining an avenue or as a singular specimen tree in a small residential landscape, the Okame cherry (Prunus x incam 'Okame') displays its flowers earlier than all other types of ornamental cherry trees. The pink flowers appear so early as if to foretell the eminent defeat of winter by spring, even though frosty nights linger.
Created by Collingwood Ingram in England, the Okame cherry resulted by his genetic cross of the Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa) with the Taiwan ornamental cherry (Cerasus campanulata). A seedling of the Okame cherry with better resistance to foliage insect pests and slightly later flowering is named variety Dream Catcher, introduced by the United States National Arboretum.
Growing into a small deciduous tree with upright and rounded crown, the mature height ranges from 18 to 25 feet tall. By far the most alluring ornamental quality of the Okame cherry are the abundant rosy pink flowers. Before the leaves emerge, the pink buds line the stark, satin-glossed gray-brown branches and then open in flushes over two to three weeks in very late winter to mid-spring. Untimely frosts nip and brown open blossoms, but younger developing buds survive to open a few days later. In autumn the green leaves attain tones of orange and bronze before they drop away. This hybrid cherry rarely yields fruit. In winter the bare branches and trunk better reveal the gray-brown smooth bark that carries hints of red-brown tones.
Plant an Okame cherry in a full sun to partial shade exposure, receiving direct sunlight daily for a minimum of 4 to 6 hours, more if possible. Abundant sunshine creates a well-rounded and shapely tree with copious amounts of flowers annually. This species tolerates a wide array of soils, from clay to sand, including types that become compacted. It also copes with drought conditions, although receiving at least 1-inch of rainfall or irrigation weekly in the growing season helps prevent leaf scorch or premature leaf drop. It successfully grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9 and Sunset Climate Zones 4 through 9 and 14 through 23.