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Valley Wilds Article | Bloom of the Sakura by Ranger Mae

Cherry blossoms on a branch against a soft pink background.

Spring's Enchantment: Sakura and Almond Blossoms

As the Spring season unfolds in the Bay Area, I eagerly await Sakura's enchanting yet momentary bloom, the cherry blossom. This familiar flower is internationally recognized as a vibrant symbol of optimism and delicacy, and it is often used in many lavish treats. With origins rooted in Japan and neighboring countries, the cherry blossom tree and other varieties flourish throughout multiple parts of the world, especially here in California.

Although there aren't specifically cherry blossoms growing in Sycamore Grove Park, we do produce a beautiful relative, the almond blossom tree. Each flowering tree is uniquely radiant, and their shared commonalities will reveal a brand-new appreciation of these works of art.

With their fleeting yet charming blooming season occurring in real-time, I hope these interesting details will encourage you to explore the local areas to encounter these incredible floras.

Symbolism and Culinary Delights

The Sakura (Prunus serrulata), the Japanese cherry blossom, is a word that is as beautiful in phonetic echoing as it is in linguistic translation. The word Sakura represents a floral bloom relating to beauty, renewal, goodness, and respect for life within nature.

Sakura flowers, including almonds, peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines, grow on the crowns of trees within the genus Prunus. By being classified within this genus and being a part of the Rosaceae family, all variations of these trees share some commonalities. However, despite many sounding familiar by name, it may be shocking to uncover that the beautiful Sakura may not produce the same cherries we imagine buying at the grocery store.

With over 400 species, these vibrant floral treasures may cultivate minuscule cherry-like fruits that could be more flavorful. These tiny cherries are bitter with large pits on the inside—not exactly suitable for a cherry pie at your grandma's house!

However, many talented culinary artists utilize the pink and white flower petals in their edible creations. Japan hosts incredible springtime festivals with vendors who craft menus featuring the Sakura flower. Some edible treats include teas, smoothies, rice cakes, mochi cakes, candies, cookies, and even ice cream! They are the most commonly found products—especially in the U.S.— Japanese cherry blossom candles and perfumes. Similar to its symbolism, the flavors and scents of the Sakura are soft and subtle yet uniquely vibrant. These flowers' aromatic and tasteful pleasures provide a pure sense of joy, a perfect ambiance for hosting special family-oriented events. 

Cultural Traditions: Hanami

In Japan, the word "hanami" refers to flower-gazing parties, a traditional custom celebrated for centuries and continues to be a commendable aspect of the culture.

Depending on the geographic region and climate, this typically occurs for a brief season between late March and the end of April; however, with observing through an enormous scope, the blooming may collectively continue over four months. Imagine relaxing beneath the archways of the blooming tree crowns, enjoying the live arts of musicians, dancers, cultural exhibits, and even nighttime illuminations. Many families gather to craft and use traditional Japanese lanterns to admire the beauty of the Sakura alongside a sky full of stars.

The focal point of this practice is to understand each flower's transient beauty, delicate representation of beauty, optimism, renewal, momentary acceptance, and the fragility of life. The cherry blossom tree creates a peaceful yet transitory visual of clouds above the horizon; they bloom all at once and hover in a whimsical mist, and then, without warning, they suddenly disappear. Within their natural design, the Sakura is more than a visual aesthetic but also a lesson to appreciate impermanent delicacies and gain wisdom throughout life's fading nature.

Think of the most delicious meal you've ever been served, maybe at a family home-cooked dinner or an extravagant fine-dining restaurant during a vacation. As delicious as the food was in the moment, it wouldn't be nearly as unique or precious if it was abundant and habitual. 

California's Floral Beauty

Blossoming almond flowers on a branch with a sunset sky backdrop.
Photo captured by Ranger Jay in Sycamore Grove Park 

Despite not producing cherry blossom trees in Sycamore Grove Park, there is a unique archway on our trails where we can imagine what it's like to visit Japan and stroll through the Sakura archways during peak blooming season. Along the winery loop trail parallel to Kingfisher crossing and the paved path, our park produces a beautiful cluster of almond blossom trees to admire between early February and late April. This unique curved pathway is a lovely floral archway to admire for a few weeks in the park.

You may even notice a few surprise locations throughout random parts of the grove. With over 1.5 million acres of almond blossom trees, California produces 80% of the almonds served worldwide. Despite their relatively short-term blooming season, these trees utilize the state's perfect weather conditions to grow in a healthy and balanced timeline within nature.

Like cherry blossom trees, the almond blossoms grow to heights reaching about 20-25 feet tall with a crown spread of 15-20 feet. Both trees produce flower petals whose design fully covers the branches, creating vibrant and misty displays of pink and white beauty along the horizon.

If you observe each type closely, you'll notice how the cherry blossoms have grayish bark coloration with ovate (egg-shaped) leaves, while the almonds have darker bark with lanceolate (elongated) leaves. 

Nature's Gifts

Whether you are wandering beneath the almond orchard archways in Sycamore Grove Park or visiting the garden displays in Japantown, San Francisco, I hope that you will take a moment to relax and appreciate the delicate beauty of both the almond and cherry blossom trees, effortlessly standing as a whimsical and rare gift of nature for us all to enjoy.