Weeping Higan Cherry

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Weeping Higan Cherry trees originate in Japan, but they, along with many other Japanese cherry trees, were introduced to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since then, they have graced gardens across the country, from Yale University to Washington D.C.'s National Mall. Nestled into a planter on the north side of Branford Court, just outside the Saybrook Dining Hall, this Weeping Higan Cherry bursts into color each year in mid-April to announce the arrival of spring, and, in its more subdued autumn hues, provides the background for the annual Branford first-year class photo.
Sam Lopez
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
5.23 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.27 m

The bark of the Weeping Higan Cherry has a grey-brown color, and is characterized on the trunk of an adult tree by moderately-sized furrows with scaly tops.
Twigs & branches
The twigs of the Weeping Higan Cherry are narrow in diameter and are dotted with large lenticels, and have a glossy, brown-grey surface. The larger branches have a glossy silver-gray surface, and have a much smaller number of lenticels per surface area.
The leaves of the Weeping Higan Cherry are simple serrated leaves of about 10 to 20 cm in length, with a deep green color on the top and a paler green color on the bottom.
Reproductive Structures
The flowers of the Weeping Higan Cherry are small in size, with a diameter between 1 and 2 cm, consist of five light pink or white petals and five dark pink sepals organized around a series of yellow pistils and stamens, and attract pollinating bees.
The fruit of the Weeping Higan Cherry is a spherical drupe with a diameter of about 1 cm. Fruit is initially red, but turns black when ripe, and is indigestible by humans.
  • Winter
  • Summer
  • Autumn (representative image)
It is certain that the cherry tree species which were hybridized to produce the Weeping Higan Cherry are native to Japan. The Weeping Higan Cherry itself has been cultivated by Japanese gardeners for more than a thousand years. In the past two centuries Weeping Higan Cherry trees have been exported all over the world as an ornamental plant. They are fairly hardy, able to survive in most kinds of non-boggy soil and deal with freezing temperatures in winter. However, they require a large amount of sun to survive, and are vulnerable to wind damage, due to their high surface area to volume ratio, and to heat damage. Depicted are the regions of the continental United States where the Weeping Higan Cherry can thrive, which include New Haven, where this tree is present, and the Maryland-Virginia region, where Weeping Higan Cherry trees have escaped cultivation and become an invasive species in small numbers.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The Weeping Higan Cherry is native to Japan, where it, and other related species of flowering cherry trees, are referred to by the collective name sakura. Arboretal cultivation and breeding of Japanese cherry trees has resulted in the development of dozens of hybrid species with no wild equivalent, including the Weeping Higan Cherry, which is found only in gardens and environments where it has escaped from human cultivation into the environment. It is unknown which specific species were hybridized to produce the Weeping Higan Cherry, as the hybridization event or events occured many centuries before the development of modern taxonomy. 

Japanese cherry trees are world-renowned for their beautiful flowers, which typically appear right after the start of spring. In Japan, cherry trees play an important part in cultural and religious life. The start of spring is traditionally marked by hanami, a cherry blossom viewing ceremony which acts an oppurtunity to eat, drink, and be merry with friends and family, and several famous Japanese Buddhist temples are dedicated architecturally and religiously to cherry trees and their blossoms. The Weeping Higan Cherry is a particularly ancient and well-regarded cherry tree cultivar; the Miharu Takizakura, widely regarded as the most beautiful cherry tree in Japan, is a Weeping Higan Cherry, and was first planted more than 1,000 years ago. Every year, more than 300,000 people travel to the small town of Miharu, where the Miharu Takizakura is located, to engage in hanami under its branches.

After Japan began participating in global trade networks in the mid 19th century, Japanese cherry trees began to be established in gardens throughout the world, including in the United States. The Weeping Higan Cherry was one of the first species of cherry tree to be widely planted in the US due to its hardiness, cold resistance, and pleasing shape even in winter. The earliest record of a Weeping Higan Cherry’s being planted in the US comes from 1862, and by 1912, they were a common sight in gardens and arboreta across America, as they are today. The tradition of hanami followed Japanese cherry blossoms across the Pacific, and in the present day cherry blossom festivals are held annually across the US, including on the National Mall in Washington D.C., which is lined with cherry trees, including some Weeping Higan Cherry trees, given to President William Howard Taft Yale College Class of 1878 as a gift by the Japanese government in 1902, and in New Haven’s Wooster Square, where dozens of Japanese cherry trees were planted in 1973.

Though Weeping Higan Cherry trees have spread across the world for the amazing spectacle of their flowers, these flowers only bloom for a few weeks out of the year, typically in mid- to late April, just about a month into spring. Though the flowers develop as the sole ornament of the tree, green leaves soon follow, and remain even after the flowers convert into fruits over the course of the summer. The tree retains its leaves throughout autumn, though they become yellow as the season passes, and begins dropping its fruits. The tree finally loses its leaves and the last of its fruits in early winter, and remains totally bare throughout the winter and into spring, when it blossoms again.

Aiello, A.S. 2012. Japanese Flowering Cherries - A 100-Year-Long Love Affair. Arnoldia 69.4:pp. unknown.

Gilman, E.F. and D.G. Watson. 1994. Prunus subhirtella ‘pendula.’ http://hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/tree_fact_sheets/prusubb.pdf

iNaturalist and contributors. n.d. Rosebud Cherry. https://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/882990

Johnstone, G. 2020. How to Grow Higan Cherry Trees. https://www.thespruce.com/higan-cherry-tree-plant-guide-5078627

Library of Congress. n.d. Sakura: Cherry Blossoms in Japanese Cultural History. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/cherry-blossoms/cherry-blossoms-in-japanese…

Oregon State University Department of Horticulture. n.d. Prunus subhirtella ‘pendula.’ https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/prunus-subhirtella-pendula

Seiler, J., et al. n.d. Higan cherry. http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=311

Wikimedia Foundation and contributors. n.d. Miharu Takizakura. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miharu_Takizakura

Media and Arts
Sign-planting and presentation, 04/25/21

Untitled (for Rachel Shaw-Rosenbaum BR ‘24)

Sam Lopez


A few have burst into green already. I don’t know them, but there they are,

announcing the arrival of spring. There was sun

but there’s none today.

We should all still be reeling.

When I return to this place, the tree

might look like a mockery,

but it didn’t happen weeks from now it happened yesterday, and

the weeping shapes and little buds

you have to squint to see

make this current view a picture of weeping.

I never knew a tree other than a willow could be.

Maybe I could never be like her, even among masks and distance

and a room that faces the rising sun.

The tree doesn’t suggest the validity of any goal,

bent, broken-backed, long as it is tall,

opaquely suggesting a hint of life by its stand.

All the cut roses will wither into dust, and her name

will never replace the place I sit,

but the tree will remain, bursting into glorious color

of a sort that can’t be seen

on this day that is gray with green across the way.


I can’t cope with the idea in any capacity,

but the tree counterbalances. It hasn’t noticed.

It’s bent over backwards anyway, so the rest of us are just joining in.

Its buds are miniscule after the equinox,

beaten down by a cold, cold winter,

yet there they sit.

I worry that she and I built ourselves on shaky foundations

and hers collapsed while mine only haven’t yet.

But the tree’s foundations are shaky,

and it budded for the equinox

and by the solstice will drape itself

in the lush greenery appropriate for the water in the air outmatching the air in the ocean.

That’s unimaginably far away, yet in the great solstice snowstorm

this day was unimaginably far away too.

The tree has to assume the solstice will arrive;

despite it all, it must believe in summer days.

Does it lament the time lost in winter

when its color is no more than a memory?

Indeed not, and this is why it and I and she are not the same.

The tree does not understand what it has lost, and cannot do anything but go forward.

I know what I have lost, but proceed anyway, not because there is no other choice­–

oh no, not because there is no other choice–

but because I want to

and I can

and I believe

that everything will be alright