Okame Cherry – May 2014 Tree of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

The Okame Cherry (Prunus x incamp), is one of the first trees to flower in the late winter or early spring (it is quite late this year!); its beautiful attributes, especially after a long and difficult winter like we have had, renew our energy. This non-native, but non-invasive, cherry is the Ewing Environmental Commission’s choice for the Tree of the Month.

The Okame Cherry is a cross between Prunus Incisa, (Fuji Cherry), and Prunus campanulata, (Taiwan cherry), thus the name incamp, derived from incisa and campanulata. It has benefitted from the best characteristics of both parents. It was developed in England by Captain Collingwood Ingram, considered the greatest influence in ornamental cherry breeding and introductions. The Okame Cherry was introduced to the United States in 1947 and in 1988 it received the prestigious Styer Award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Its USDA Hardiness Zone is 6B – 9B, which puts Ewing at the northern cold limit.

The pink flowers appear before the leaves, with deep pink colored petals surrounded by a red calyx, the surrounding outer fringe of the floral envelope. The buds are deep maroon. If the first flowers become frost or cold damaged, they are succeeded by another flush of flowering which extends the flowering season to 2 to 3 weeks.

The fruit is insignificant except to many birds.

The simple, deciduous, dark green leaves are alternately arranged on the branches. They are oval shaped, 1” to 2.5” long, and cast a medium shade below. The leaves become copper, orange and yellow-colored in the fall which, combined with the showy, reddish-bronze bark, creates a beautiful picture.

The tree, fast growing at first, will reach 15 to 25’ tall with a spread approximately 20’. It has an upright, rounded crown, and benefits from careful pruning-out of upright-growing stems, which will enhance its wide shape, strengthen its structure, and allow light to enter into the crown. The wood is considered resistant to breakage. The bark is thin, so the tree should be surrounded by 2-3 “of shredded bark mulch (not touching the trunk) to protect it from weeds, mowers and string trimmers. Unfortunately, the life span is only about 20 years.

Okame Cherry should be planted where it will receive 6-8 hours of daily sun. It will tolerate clay but does best in well-drained, acid, moist soil. The planting hole should be two to three times wider than the root ball but no deeper than the root ball and it should be watered deeply, in the absence of rain, once a week during the first two growing seasons. Once established it is somewhat drought tolerant.

Considered fairly disease and insect resistant, the Okame Cherry nonetheless does get aphids, borers, scale, canker worms and spider mites. A healthy, fertilized and well-watered tree will resist these problems.

This tree serves beautifully as a specimen lawn tree, along entrance drives, adjacent to patios and decks, and even as a street tree under power lines when sufficient soil is available.

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.