The autumn flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’) is such an innocuous little tree that the only time I’m likely to notice it is when it’s putting out a flush of bloom during the cold months. But when I see cherry blossoms in November, I know exactly what I’m looking at. A couple of years ago, I was in the north of England over Thanksgiving weekend. The weather was foggy, drizzly, dreary – yet, standing out through the mist was a glorious display of light pink blooms on bare branches. On such a gray day late in the fall, the flowers were a welcome surprise.
Like most cherries, Autumnalis blooms heavily in the spring before the leaves emerge, though it’s not nearly as showy as the ornamental cherries that are so celebrated in cities like Tokyo and Washington. From November through March though, it sporadically throws out blossoms, especially during a spell of mild weather.
These fall and winter blooms are not showy either, but for me it’s a tremendous thrill to have flowers, any flowers, in the winter. Many years ago I received an Autumnalis cherry for Valentine’s Day, and I planted it where I could see it from a window. Not only are the branches rather sparsely lined with flowers, but the flowers themselves are so papery thin they almost seem transparent, in a shade of pink so pale it’s just one blush above white.
Here’s what British garden writer Ursula Buchan says about Autumnalis cherry, writing for the Telegraph back in 2007:
I have found that it’s extremely difficult to photograph Autumnalis well. The delicate blossoms don’t have a lot of visual weight, so the tree becomes a “see-through plant” and the background always gets distracting in my photos.
The only really wonderful photos I’ve ever seen of Autumnalis in a home landscape are on horticulturalist Walter Reeve’s website, so be sure to click and take a look!
Autumnalis is said to be hardy as far north as Zone 5 or 6, but I have no idea how many winter blooms it puts out in those areas. (If you have some experience, please leave a comment!) It’s not a large tree at all, so you can find a place for it even in the smallest lawn or backyard.All photos in this post are being used under a Creative Commons license. Clicking on the photo will take you to the artist’s Flickr site, where you can view the original work and the licensing terms.