Japanese Spring Flowers: Boke—More Than Sakura

Flowering Quince, i.e Boke 木瓜

Now this is where things can get a little tricky. Boke are a very common plant in Japanese gardens because people think they look a lot like ume, but are much hardier and therefore less trouble to maintain. There are even some breeds of boke that have “ume” in the name! They also start to bloom at roughly the same time as ume, but last much longer than ume—all the way into April. Some of the flower’s traits, however, like waxy leaves and thorns, can help distinguish it from ume or even sakura.

Thorns are clearly visible here. Sometimes the thorns are absent.

Fragrance

Like the sakura, boke lack a fragrance when in bloom. Interestingly, these flowers always go to fruit but only some produce fruit with a fragrant smell. 

green quince fruit on a boke bush
Quince fruit starting to form.

Petals

Boke and ume petals can look a lot alike.  However, if you glace at the flower’s stamen (the part that has all the pollen on it), it becomes clear that boke stigma are more condensed in the center of the flower. Contrarily, ume and sakura flowers are more spread out.

Coloring

Coloring is where things cane get a little tricky. As shown below, the flowers come in an organish red, but can come in pink and white too. This similar color pallet, makes it a little hard to tell them apart from the other spring flowers on this list. That being said, the most common color for boke is a vibrant red that is very different from even the ume’s rich crimson.

Red boke. Notice the stamen
Classic crimson ume

Another clear indicator that the flower you have found is a boke and not an ume or sakura is if the flower has both and white petals.

Pink and white boke. While the red boke are mistaken for ume, these pink and whites are often mistaken for sakura.
Common sakura flower

Again, notice the stigma of these flowers are different. 

Branches

Another good place to start looking for differences is to keep an eye one where the flowers are growing. They also bloom in tight bunches on their branches with very little stem.

Remember, ume bloom individually on the branch, and sakura have big rounded clusters or flowers.

Another big difference from sakura and ume is that boke will put out leaves with their flowers. For most kinds of sakura, when the tree starts growing its leaves, that often means that the tree’s bloom is starting to wane. Furthermore, ume trees will never have leaves and flowers on them at the same time. Ume flower first and put out their leaves once the bloom has ended.

Blooming Season

To make matters even more confusing, the bloom season starts sometime between the height of ume season and the start of sakura season (March-April). It seems to me that boke stay in bloom for much longer than the other two, lasting well into peak sakura blooming season.

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