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The plum trees are in full blossom now. The faint colours really stick out in the winter countryside which is otherwise still colourless.
"Japanese Plum" or Ume 梅 blossoms are one of the symbols of Spring, but they are actually more closely related to an Apricot. Anybody who has mistakenly eaten one will know they are not really an apricot either though, so we are really best to call them Japanese Ume, or even better Prunus mume which is the scientific name.
Prunus are in the same family as apples, cherries, rasberries and strawberries, and can be recognised by their flowers which have 5 petals and form a fruit at the base. Most trees in this family are prone to disease and are typically not long lived. Trees which are cut back are less susceptible to old age symptoms, which is the main reason why farmers prune (yes that word probably comes from Prunus) their fruit trees, the second being that it encourages new growth which is where the flowers grow best.
In Japan, where fruit trees are often grown close to houses as ornaments as well as for food, trees are regularly pruned vigorously and so Ume trees live for decades. Strolling through a Japanese countryside village, we can see gnarly Ume trees growing in front of houses, looking like giant bonsai trees. In many cases they have been there as long as the houses.
I do a lot of walking around my neighbourhood and know a lot of these ancient Ume trees. Every year in winter when the leaves fall and the signs of life are gone, I swear some of these trees look dead. Birds roost in their crevasses and frost gathers on their limbs. They have holes in their trunks big enough to poke your head right through, and their bark is no different in colour to the surrounding dirt. Come February though, they suddenly break out in flower and I am reminded that I have aged another year, while nature has once again stayed just the same.
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