Kanzan

'Kanzan' aka 'Sekiyama'
Pink Double-flowering Cherry


"What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms."

-Kobayashi Issa
(1763-1828)

   

Halfway down the block from our house, growing on then roadside, is a remarkably beautiful cherry tree, rugged & old-looking, perhaps twenty feet tall & very wide. It is double-flowering cherry called 'Kanzan,' potentially the largest of Prunus serrulata cultivars, with some trees reaching 25 or 30 feet.

The species is native to Central China where wild trees can grow to sixty or more feet, or twice the size in cultivation. Though originally a Chinese native, it is in Japanese cultivation that the species takes on significance.

Kanzan'Kanzan' is frankly the showest of all ornamental cherries. It is rather common in British Columbia & around Puget Sound & western Oregon landscapes, & often seen on campuses in other regions of the United States. But it seems to have been under-utilized in our area as a roadside tree, though we very often see more delicate & less showy ornamental cherries on street margins.

It's so great to have such a large splendid specimen of 'Kanzan' on our street, though I worry about it some, since at such a size it must be well beyond its prime of its life. In terms of tree's lives, cherries as a group can be shortlived. A thirty-year-old tree would be very old, & they sometimes die younger because because susceptible to borers & a whole host of problems which befall ornamental cherries. 'Kanzan' should even so outlive many another ornamental cherry species.

Kanzan'Kanzan' (obsolete spelling 'Kwanzan') is a Japanese word from classical poetry, meaning literally "boardering the mountain," but invokes sympathetic memories (or fantasies) of the ideal picaresque village with mountain backdrop, having an almost sorrowful nostalgic meaning of "I remember the little village of my youth."

The name also refers to a Zen hermit sage & eccentric Kanzan (Hanshan in China). He lived during the Tang dynasty & is regarded as an incarnation of the boddhisatva Monjushiri the Exquisite Auspicious One. In Chinese his name means "Cold Mountain" as he was a poet-monk who dwelt in a cave on a mountain so-named, or in a hut on the southern slope of Cold Mou, beside which grew, as he described in one of his poems, cherries that shone in the morning light as with crimson fire, & willows that trailed their slender branches.

Kanzan was one of the "four sleeping ones" who nap in Zen repose. The others being Jittoku, Bukan, & their pet tiger, very popular figures of sumi-e inkbrush drawing & Zen art generally. A portrait of Kanzan holding up his scroll of poems is shown on this page, by the Tokugawa Period artist Soga Shohaku (17301781).

Prunus serrulata purpurescens 'Kanzan' is also known as 'Sekiyama' (Mountain Station) or 'Sekizan' (a famous Tendai Buddhist temple founded in 868 CE). Extremely flowery, the large (two-inch) pink double-flowers hang in clusters of two to five. The buds are opening in early April & in full bloom about mid-April. The flowers seem to be on the branches quite a bit longer than for most flowering cherries, & 'Kanzan' is probably the hardiest as well as the most ppular of the P. serrulata cultivars.

Pointed, serrated leaves emerge burnt umber to bronzed orange shortly after the blooms have already started. They harden to green before the blooms are finished. Their autumn color will again be in the vicnity of orangish brown.

Small black fruits are not showy & not numerous. They have one seed in a stone (pit or endocarp), & not much soft flesh (exocarp). Though theoretically edible they're best left for the birds & squirrels.

As a mature tree it is vase-shaped & rounded, sometimes flat on top. Mature trees have winter interest because of the grey bark's horizontal lenticils that give it a split-bark appearance.

   



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