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Waimea’s Church Row Cherry Trees: A Closer Look

March 27, 2011
Waimea's Church Row Cherry Trees

Waimea's Church Row Park Cherry Trees

In early February, Church Row, one of the Big Island’s treasured historic sites, was host to the annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival, which celebrates the centuries-old Japanese tradition of hanami, or cherry blossom viewing.

Unfortunately, I missed the festival last month, but, since moving into Waimea town, I have been walking by Church Row several times each week on my way toward Parker Ranch Center where I start my Ala Ohia run.

Seeing the cherry trees in bloom at such close proximity over these last few weeks has made me more curious about them. Who planted them? Why? What happens after the blossoms fall? How many different kinds of cherry trees are there?

Hanami: Recognizing Transience

A fascinating NPR article posted earlier this week (about hanami in Japan after the tsunami) prompted me to think more about why the blossoming of the cherry trees seems to strike such an emotional chord with those who view them. The article says this about the significance of the cherry blossom in Japanese culture:

“The blossoms are heavy, and they fall to the ground soon after they bloom,” says James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer Gallery and the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. “Japanese poets from early on took this as analogous to the ephemerality of life, … and this blended with a strong Buddhist notion of transience: things are passing, nothing is permanent.”

The pieces of art pictured in the NPR post are beautifully evocative. I encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to the interview and to look at the large versions of the images if you haven’t seen the article already.

Sakura: Flowering Cherry Blossom Trees

Waimea Cherry Tree

Fruit on one Waimea cherry tree

This weekend, when I noticed that some of the trees I pass along the road here in Waimea have lost their blossoms and are producing fruit, I also wondered whether these are ornamental trees or whether the fruit would be edible.

(Have I mentioned that I’m not really much of a gardener? And that I missed the Cherry Blossom Festival where, as I understand it, information about the Waimea trees was available?)

A bit of research led me to this, from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii’s website:

According to Jack Tsujihara, … president of Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association, sakura or cherry blossom trees are very temperamental. They grow in cold climates and require a lot of sunshine, space, rain and breeze. The flowers bloom when a cold spell (45 degrees or lower) is followed by a warm spell.

The sakura in Waimea are all along Church Row Park. The first trees (three to be exact) were planted in 1953 in honor of Fred Makino of the Hawaii Hochi by his widow. These trees are the Formosan cherry trees, which produce flowers but no fruit.

Parker Ranch gardener Isami Ishihara later propagated more trees and in 1972, the Waimea Lions Club planted 20 trees. In 1975, the Lions planted 50 more in honor of Emperor Hirohito’s visit as well as the centennial celebration of Japanese immigration to Waimea.

So, there’s the answer, at least in part (I’m not 100% sure if all the trees I see in Waimea are the same type and I’m assuming that “no fruit” in the excerpt above means “no edible fruit”).

A “flowering” cherry, the Formosan cherry tree, with its rosy-pink flowers, is also known as the Taiwan cherry, bell cherry, or more officially as Prunus campanulata, a variety that can thrive in warmer climates better than others, according to this gardening site which also lists several other types of cherry trees.

Learn More

Below the following photo from Church Row Park are a number of links for more information about Washington, D.C’s cherry trees and the National Cherry Blossom Festival as well as a link to an old Waimea Gazette article about one of Church Row’s historic churches.

If you know of other resources with more information about the history of Waimea’s cherry trees or Church Row, I’d love it if you would leave links/suggestions in the comments section.

Waimea's Church Row Park Cherry Trees

A closer view of a few of the Waimea Church Row Park cherry trees and the Green Church

From National Public Radio:

From U.S National Park Service:

From the National Cherry Blossom Festival:

From the Waimea Gazette:

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