“Weak and puny” … but welcome in winter Essay

“Weak and puny’ . . . but welcome in winter

Like single-issue candidates, the flowering cherry known as Prunus
subhirtella “Autumnalis’ owes its popularity to one virtue, a
blooming season that starts as the last autumn leaves are turning and
continues in fits and starts through winter.

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The milder the weather and the more sheltered the trees, the better
the bloom. For this reason, “Autumnalis’ cherry blossoms are
safer west of the Sierra, though trees grow in all but the coldest areas
east of the mountains.

Don’t expect flowers as large or colorful as those on
later-flowering cherries. As English horticulturist Hugh Johnson wrote
about this 80-year-old variety, “One can forgive the flowers their
weak color and puny size when they are the only ones in the

The two trees pictured above in a Tacoma, Washington, garden were
planted bare-root in 1972. They’ve bloomed well every year since,
peaking between Thanksgiving and Christmas but giving a final flush of
bloom around the first of March. (In California’s San Joaquin
Valley, they may begin to bloom as early as November 1.) By 1981, they
had reached 15 to 20 feet in height. If left unpruned, they will top
out at about 25 to 30 feet.

A flattened-looking crown and loose branching habit are typical.

“Autumnalis’ is available in nurseries this month
bare-root; some container plants may be available also, with more to
come in June. When you look for it, you may come across two confusingly
similar cherries. P.s. “Autumnalis Rosea’ is simply an
“Autumnalis’ with pink flowers. P.s. “Rosea’ (also
sold as P.s. “Whitcombii’), however, is a different cherry; it
can flower as early as Christmas but does not have the flush of
late-fall bloom that’s so ingratiating in “Autumnalis.’

Photo: Borne on leafless stems in winter, semidouble whitish
flowers have pink-to-crimson stamens

Photo: Entry gets summer shade, winter bloom from
“Autumnalis’ cherries


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