Flowering apricot seeds (Prunus mume) grow into stunning trees that yield tiny sour fruits. While westerners don't like this fruit much, people in Asia salt and dry them, sometimes adding them to alcohol. Flowering apricot trees, sometimes called Japanese apricots, grow some 20 feet tall and explode in aromatic pink flowers. The seeds grow successfully in hardiness zones 6 through 8.
Flowering apricot seeds originated near the Chinese-Russian boarder some 5,000 years ago. From there, merchants and travelers moved them along the Silk Road, trading them throughout the Middle East and Asia. Greeks and Romans alike had apricot trees in their gardens. Seeds likely arrived in America along with French explorers in the 1700s as well as Spanish missionaries.
In Japan, people still use flowering apricot seeds to start trees in their gardens. Once grown the tree flowers in February in Asia, bearing five-petaled flowers in rosy hues. Come fall, the fruits turn yellow, signalling ripeness. The fruit holds another seed, or kernel.
Flowering apricot seeds belong to the drupe variety of fruit. It receives this designation because the kernel produces a fleshy fruit with a stone in the middle that protects the seed. Plums, peach, olives and nectarines belong to this category. Once harvested from the fruit, the seed from a Japanese apricot lasts for up to three months in the refrigerator before sowing.
Some 300 varieties of flowering apricot seeds exist throughout China and Japan. Some treasured in China for their ornamental value include the Dahong mei, Longyou mei and Taige mei. All these trees have long life spans. One, a yellow mei, is 1600 years old and still flowering in Hubei. Japanese varieties include hibai, bungo and yabai. Yabai makes a good grafting apricot tree.
The flowering apricot seed isn't overly picky, particularly when planted in zone 6. Put the kernel from a fruit directly in the ground after the chance of frost passes. Mix the soil with a little sand and moss for good drainage. It will take three years for your seed to grow large enough for flowering.
Commercial manufacturers use apricot kernel oil in a variety of skin care products, including creams and moisturizing masks. It doesn't feel oily and provides skin with nourishment. People with sensitive skin rarely have problems with apricot oil. It's also good for treating minor burns.