Japanese plum
5 mins read

Japanese plum

Introduction

The Japanese plum, also known as Ume (, Ume), is a species of flowering plant in the family Rosaceae. Native to East Asia, it has been cultivated for over 1,000 years in Japan, China, and Korea. The Japanese plum is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree that produces small, yellow or red fruit, often used in cooking, medicine, and as a natural dye.

Etymology

The name “Ume” is derived from the Japanese word for “plum” or “apricot,” and is believed to have been introduced to Japan from China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).

Description

The Japanese plum is a deciduous tree that grows up to 10-15 meters (33-49 feet) tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 30-40 cm (12-16 inches). The bark is grayish-brown, with a smooth, glossy texture. The leaves are elliptical, 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) long, with a pointed tip and serrated edges. The flowers are white or pink, 2-3 cm (0.8-1.2 inches) in diameter, with five petals and a sweet, fragrant scent.

Taxonomy & Cultivars

The Japanese plum is classified as Prunus mume Siebold & Zucc. (Rosaceae). There are several cultivars, including:

CultivarDescription
‘Kwanzan’Large, double flowers, pink or white
‘Shiro-Kwanzan’White flowers, large and double
‘Mikawa’Small, yellow fruit, sweet and juicy
‘Bungo’Large, yellow fruit, sweet and slightly sour

Distribution & Habitat

The Japanese plum is native to East Asia, including Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan. It is commonly found in mountainous regions, at elevations of 500-1,500 meters (1,640-4,920 feet) above sea level.

Cultivation

The Japanese plum is cultivated for its fruit, which is harvested in late summer to early fall. It prefers well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. Pruning is essential for fruiting and maintaining tree shape.

Production & Uses

The Japanese plum is used in various products, including:

ProductDescription
UmeboshiPickled plums, used as a condiment
UmeshuPlum wine, made with Japanese plums and shochu
MarmaladeMade with Japanese plums and sugar
DyeThe fruit and leaves are used as a natural dye

Phytochemistry

The Japanese plum contains various bioactive compounds, including:

CompoundDescription
AmygdalinA cyanogenic glycoside, with potential medicinal uses
QuercetinA flavonoid, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
KaempferolA flavonoid, with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties

Flavor

The Japanese plum has a sweet, slightly sour taste, with a hint of bitterness. The flavor is often described as a combination of apricot, peach, and plum.

Toxicity

The Japanese plum contains amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside that can release cyanide, a toxic compound. However, the amount of amygdalin in the fruit is relatively low, and cooking or processing can reduce the toxicity.

Nutrition

The Japanese plum is a good source of:

NutrientAmount (per 100g)
Vitamin C10-15 mg
Potassium150-200 mg
Fiber2-3 g

Culture

The Japanese plum has significant cultural and historical importance in East Asia, particularly in Japan, where it is considered a symbol of good fortune, longevity, and prosperity. Ume blossoms are also celebrated during the annual “Ume Matsuri” (Plum Blossom Festival).

“In the garden of the senses, the Japanese plum is a treasure, its beauty and fragrance a gift to the soul.” – Japanese proverb

Traditional Medicine

The Japanese plum has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly in Japan, China, and Korea. The fruit, leaves, and bark are used to treat various ailments, including:

  • Digestive issues
  • Respiratory problems
  • Fever
  • Inflammation
  • Cancer

Culinary Uses

The Japanese plum is a versatile ingredient in many traditional dishes, including:

  • Umeboshi (pickled plums)
  • Umeshu (plum wine)
  • Marmalade
  • Jams and preserves
  • Sauces and marinades
  • Salads and desserts

Symbolism and Festivals

The Japanese plum is a symbol of:

  • Good fortune
  • Longevity
  • Prosperity
  • Beauty
  • Fragrance

The annual “Ume Matsuri” (Plum Blossom Festival) celebrates the blooming of the Japanese plum, often in late February to early March.

Gardening and Landscaping

The Japanese plum is a popular ornamental tree in East Asian gardens, valued for its:

  • Beautiful blossoms
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Attractive foliage
  • Small size
  • Easy maintenance

Pests and Diseases

The Japanese plum is susceptible to:

  • Pests: aphids, spider mites, scale insects
  • Diseases: powdery mildew, black knot, root rot

Breeding and Hybridization

Breeding programs aim to develop new cultivars with improved:

  • Fruit quality
  • Disease resistance
  • Cold hardiness
  • Flowering periods

Genetic Research

Studies on the Japanese plum genome have led to a better understanding of:

  • Fruit development
  • Flowering regulation
  • Disease resistance
  • Evolutionary history

Conclusion

The Japanese plum is a remarkable tree, cherished for its beauty, fragrance, and cultural significance. Its versatility in culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses has made it an integral part of East Asian culture and daily life.

“The Japanese plum is a symbol of the beauty and simplicity of nature, reminding us to appreciate the small joys in life.” – Japanese proverb