February's Prettiest Tree -- 'Okame' Cherry

The spectacular, deep-pink flowers often open by Valentine's Day. Photo by Steve Bender..

If you're snowbound, afflicted with cabin fever, can't wait for spring to get here, or simply have two eyes and a brain, here's the tree for you. It's a vision of beauty even pinker than Richard Simmons's underwear — ‘Okame' cherry.

Wonder how to pronounce the name? Just imagine you're calling out to Joseph Stalin. "Oh, Commie!"

‘Okame' is a hybrid between Taiwan flowering cherry (Prunus campanulata) and Fuji cherry (P. incisa). From the former, it inherited heat tolerance, low-chill requirement for blooming, early flowering, fast growth, and deep-pink flower color. From the latter, it got increased cold-hardiness. This makes it among the finest ornamental trees for the South. It blooms great in Kentucky. It blooms great in Florida.

em'Okame' cherry quickly grows to 20-25 feet tall -- the perfect size for a small yard. Photo by Steve Bender./em.

You can always count on ‘Okame' to be about the first tree to bloom every year. In my neighborhood in Alabama, it's usually in full bloom by Valentine's Day. I took these photos yesterday.

This tree eventually grows 20 to 25 feet tall and wide with a tidy, rounded or oval shape. This makes it a good candidate for lawn, street, patio, and courtyard planting. Plant it in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Do any necessary pruning immediately after the flowers fade. In fall, you get an extra bonus — the leaves turn a nice orange-red. It's also easy to force cut branches into early bloom indoors in winter.

‘Okame' is easily grown by wholesalers, so it shouldn't be hard to find at local garden centers and nurseries. But if you live in some benighted, little village where they don't sell nuthin but redtips and "anonymous," you can order the tree by mail from Greenwood Nursery, Woodlanders, and Forest Farm Nursery.

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