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Although its name may spark thoughts of tasty apricots,the Japanese apricot is planted for its ornamental beauty rather than itsfruit. The tree’s small stature also makes it a great addition in many homelandscapes. Read on to learn more about Japanese apricot trees.
What is a Japanese Apricot?
Japanese apricot trees are ornamentaltrees with many features. Their scientific name is Prunus mume, and they are native to Korea. Varieties of this treeinclude:
- ‘Peggy Clarke’
They can be 12 to 20 feet (3.6 to 6 m.) tall with a spreadof 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m.) wide.Japanese apricot trees have a round shaped crown of leaves with aserrate margin, alternate arrangement and a leaf blade of 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm.) in length. Its most recognized ornamental feature, however, is thefragrant winter-blooming flowers that come in different colors.
This ornamental fruit tree, also known as Japanese floweringapricot, blooms in white, pink or red flowers which are extremely fragrant –like spicy-sweet cloves. The apricot-like fruit is round and yellow, 1-3 inches(2.5 to 7.6 cm.) in diameter, and attracts birds. While edible, it is sour withthin flesh but is prized in Asia as a pickled fruit.
Although they are native to Asia, Japanese apricot treesgrow hardy in zones 6 through 8 in the United States. They provide aestheticsin parking lots and median strips on highways, as well as the home landscape.
How to Grow Japanese Apricot
There are various methods for growing Japanese apricot trees,with seeds and grafting most common.
Seeds of ripened apricot fruit can be propagated. Stratificationof the seeds involves keeping them in mixtures of sand and sphagnum moss in therefrigerator for three months. After the seed stratification, they can be sownoutdoors in the spring season.
Graftingby T- or chip-budding is another option to consider when cultivating thesetrees.
Japanese Apricot Tree Care
Japanese apricot tree care is vital to the growth of thetree. The trees grow best in well drained, fertile, acidic soils with extraorganic matter. Care also involves planting in full sun; if it is grown inshade, it can hinder the development of its blossoms.
Pruning Japanese apricot trees also helps with optimumflowering.
Knowing and preventing infestation of the pests to Japaneseapricots is a way of encouraging healthy trees. Aphidscause distortion of new growth. Borersattack stressed trees; apply fertilizer regularly to prevent attacks. Tentcaterpillars create large webs in trees and then eat the leaves.
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- 1 Origin
- 2 Description
- 3 Names
- 4 Varieties
- 4.1 Chinese varieties
- 4.2 Japanese varieties
- 5 Uses
- 5.1 Culinary use
- 5.1.1 Beverage
- 5.1.2 Condiment
- 5.1.3 Flower pancake
- 5.1.4 Liquor
- 5.1.5 Pickled and preserved plums
- 5.2 Medicinal use
- 5.1 Culinary use
- 6 Cultural significance
- 6.1 East Asia
- 6.1.1 Chinese
- 6.1.2 Korean
- 6.1.3 Japanese
- 6.2 Southeast Asia
- 6.2.1 Vietnamese
- 6.1 East Asia
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Prunus mume originated around the Yangtze River in the south of China.  It was later introduced to Japan,  Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. It can be found in sparse forests, stream sides, forested slopes along trails and mountains, sometimes at altitudes up to 1,700–3,100 m (5,600–10,200 ft), and regions of cultivation. 
Prunus mume is a deciduous tree that starts to flower in mid-winter, typically around January until late February in East Asia. It can grow to 4–10 m (13–33 ft) tall.  The flowers are 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) in diameter and have a strong fragrant scent.  They have colors in varying shades of white, pink, and red.  The leaves appear shortly after the petals fall, are oval-shaped with a pointed tip, and are 4–8 cm long and 2.5–5 cm wide.  The fruit ripens in early summer, around June and July in East Asia, and coincides with the East Asian rainy season, the meiyu (梅雨, "plum rain").  The drupe is 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) in diameter with a groove running from the stalk to the tip.  The skin turns yellow, sometimes with a red blush, as it ripens, and the flesh becomes yellow. The tree is cultivated for its fruit and flowers.  
Prunus mume "Peggy Clarke" blossoms
Cross section of a Prunus mume trunk
Weeping plum tree cultivar
A grove of Prunus mume
The scientific name combines the Latin prūnus (“plum tree”) and the obsolete Japanese 梅 (mume, “plum”). The plant is known by a number of different names in English, including Chinese plum  and Japanese apricot. An alternative name is ume or mume.  Another alternative name is mei.  
The flower is known as the meihua ( 梅花 ) in Chinese, which came to be translated as "plum blossom"  or sometimes as "flowering plum".  The term "winter plum" may be used too, specifically with regard to the depiction of the flower with its early blooming in Chinese painting.
In Chinese it is called mei (梅) and the fruit is called meizi (梅子). The Japanese name is ume (kanji: 梅 hiragana: うめ), while the Korean name is maesil (hangul: 매실 hanja: 梅實). The Japanese and Korean terms derive from Middle Chinese, in which the pronunciation is thought to have been muəi.  The Vietnamese name is mai or mơ (although mai vàng refers to a different plant, Ochna integerrima, in southern Vietnam).
Ornamental tree varieties and cultivars of P. mume have been cultivated for planting in various gardens throughout East Asia, and for cut blossoming branches used in flower arrangements.
Chinese varieties Edit
In China, there are over 300 recorded cultivars of Prunus mume.  These are classified by phylogenetics (P. mume and two hybrids) in branches, type of branches in groups, and characteristics of flowers in several forms: 
- Zhizhimei Lei ( 直枝梅類 ) [Upright Mei Group], Prunus mume var. typica
- Pinzimei Xing ( 品字梅型 ) [Pleiocarpa Form]
- Jiangmei Xing ( 江梅型 ) [Single Flowered Form]
- Gongfen Xing ( 宮粉型 ) [Pink Double Form]
- Yudie Xing ( 玉蝶型 ) [Alboplena Form]
- Huangxiang Xing ( 黃香型 ) [Flavescens Form]
- Lü'e Xing ( 綠萼型 ) [Green Calyx Form]
- Sajin Xing ( 灑金型 ) [Versicolor Form]
- Zhusha Xing ( 硃砂型 ) [Cinnabar Purple Form]
- Chuizhimei Lei ( 垂枝梅類 ) [Pendulous Mei Group], Prunus mume var. pendula
- Fenhua Chuizhi Xing ( 粉花垂枝型 ) [Pink Pendulous Form]
- Wubao Chuizhi Xing ( 五寶垂枝型 ) [Versicolor Pendulous Form]
- Canxue Chuizhi Xing ( 殘雪垂枝型 ) [Albiflora Pendulous Form]
- Baibi Chuizhi Xing ( 白碧垂枝型 ) [Viridiflora Pendulous Form]
- Guhong Chuizhi Xing ( 骨紅垂枝型 ) [Atropurpurea Pendulous Form]
- Longyoumei Lei ( 龍游梅類 ) [Tortuous Dragon Group], Prunus mume var. tortuosa
- Xingmei Lei ( 杏梅類 ) [Apricot Mei Group], Prunus mume var. bungo
- Yinglimei Lei ( 櫻李梅類 ) [Blireiana Group], Prunus × Blireiana, Prunus cerasifera 'Pissardii' × Prunus mume Alphandii
It is disputed whether Prunus zhengheensis (Chinese: 政和杏 ) is a separate species  or conspecific with Prunus mume.  It is found in the Fujian province of China. It is only known from one county, Zhenghe. It is a tree 35–40 m (110–130 ft) tall, preferring to grow at 700–1,000 m (2,300–3,300 ft) above sea level. The yellow fruit is delectable, and aside from its height it is indistinguishable from P. mume.
Japanese varieties Edit
In Japan, ornamental Prunus mume cultivars are classified into yabai (wild), hibai (red), and bungo (Bungo Province) types. The bungo trees are also grown for fruit and are hybrids between Prunus mume and apricot. The hibai trees have red heartwood and most of them have red flowers. The yabai trees are also used as grafting stock. Among yabai trees, Nankoume is very popular variety in Japan,  and which fruits are mainly used for making Umeboshi.
Culinary use Edit
In China and Taiwan, suanmeitang ( 酸梅湯 "sour plum juice") is made from smoked plums, called wumei ( 烏梅 ).  The plum juice is extracted by boiling smoked plums in water and sweetened with sugar to make suanmeitang.  It ranges from light pinkish-orange to purplish black in colour and often has a smoky and slightly salty taste. It is traditionally flavoured with sweet osmanthus flowers, and is enjoyed chilled, usually in summer.
In Korea, both the flowers and the fruits are used to make tea. Maehwa-cha ( 매화차, 梅花茶 "plum blossom tea") is made by infusing the flowers in hot water. Maesil-cha ( 매실차, 梅實茶 "plum tea") is made by mixing water with maesil-cheong (plum syrup) and is served either hot or cold. In Japan, similar drink made from green plums, tastes sweet and tangy, is considered a cold, refreshing drink and is often enjoyed in the summer.
A thick, sweet Chinese sauce called meijiang ( 梅醬 ) or meizijiang ( 梅子醬 ), usually translated as "plum sauce", is also made from the plums,  along with other ingredients such as sugar, vinegar, salt, ginger, chili, and garlic. Similar to duck sauce, it is used as a condiment for various Chinese dishes, including poultry dishes and egg rolls.
In Korea, maesil-cheong ( 매실청, 梅實淸 , "plum syrup"), an anti-microbial syrup made by sugaring ripe plums, is used as a condiment and sugar substitute. It can be made by simply mixing plums and sugar together, and then leaving them for about 100 days.  To make syrup, the ratio of sugar to plum should be at least 1:1 to prevent fermentation, by which the liquid may turn into plum wine.  The plums can be removed after 100 days, and the syrup can be consumed right away, or mature for a year or more. 
Flower pancake Edit
In Korea, hwajeon ( 화전, 花煎 "flower pancake") can be made with plum blossoms. Called maehwa-jeon ( 매화전, 梅花煎 "plum blossom pancake"), the pancake dish is usually sweet, with honey as an ingredient.
Plum liquor, also known as plum wine, is popular in both Japan and Korea, and is also produced in China. Umeshu ( 梅酒 "plum wine") is a Japanese alcoholic drink made by steeping green plums in shōchū (clear liquor). It is sweet and smooth. A similar liquor in Korea, called maesil-ju ( 매실주, 梅實酒 "plum wine"), is marketed under various brand names, including Mae hwa soo, Matchsoon and Seoljungmae. Both the Japanese and Korean varieties of plum liquor are available with whole plum fruits contained in the bottle. In China, plum wine is called méijiǔ ( 梅酒 ).
In Taiwan, a popular 1950s innovation over the Japanese-style plum wine is the wumeijiu ( 烏梅酒 "smoked plum liquor"), which is made by mixing two types of plum liquor, meijiu ( 梅酒 ) made of P. mume and lijiu ( 李酒 ) made of P. salicina, and oolong tea liquor. 
In Vietnam, ripe plums are macerated in sticky rice liquor. The resulting liquor is called rượu mơ. A brand selling plum liquor is Sơn Tinh.
Pickled and preserved plums Edit
In Chinese cuisine, plums pickled with vinegar and salt are called suanmeizi ( 酸梅子 "sour plum fruits"), and have an intensely sour and salty flavour. They are generally made from unripe plum fruits. Huamei ( 話梅 ) are Chinese preserved plums and refers to Chinese plums pickled in sugar, salt, and herbs. There are two general varieties: a dried variety, and a wet (pickled) variety.
Umeboshi ( 梅干 ) are pickled and dried plums. They are a Japanese specialty. Pickled with coarse salt, they are quite salty and sour, and therefore eaten sparingly. They are often red in colour when purple shiso leaves are used. Plums used for making umeboshi are harvested in late May or early June, while they are ripe enough in yellow, and layered with much salt.  They are weighed down with a heavy stone (or some more modern implement) until late August. They are then dried in the sun on bamboo mats for several days (they are returned to the salt at night). The flavonoid pigment in shiso leaves gives them their distinctive colour and a richer flavour. Umeboshi are generally eaten with rice as part of a bento (boxed lunch), although they may also be used in makizushi (rolled sushi). Umeboshi are also used as a popular filling for rice balls (onigiri) wrapped in laver. Makizushi made with plums may be made with either umeboshi or bainiku (umeboshi paste), often in conjunction with green shiso leaves. A byproduct of umeboshi production is umeboshi vinegar, a salty, sour condiment.
In Korea, there is a 'Massil-jangajji' similar to 'Umeboshi'. It is a common side dish in Korea. In the middle of June, select a slightly yellowish plum just before its maturation during the rainy season, wash it thoroughly with water, and lift it in a basket to pick the top. Place a bowl of dried plums on a platter and sprinkle 2 percent salt on the plums, then gently press the top with a stone, close the lid, and store in a cool place where the sun is not peppered. Remove the tea leaves from mid-June to July, wash them clean, then sprinkle them with about 3 percent salt, remove the green water twice, mash it well and mix it with pickled plum, then gently press the lid with a vinyl and put it in a cool place.
A very similar variety of pickled plum, xí muội or ô mai is used in Vietnamese cuisine. The best fruit for this are from the forest around the Hương Pagoda in Hà Tây Province.
Medicinal use Edit
Prunus mume is a common fruit in Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine.   It has long been used as a traditional drug and healthy food in East Asian countries.  A recent study has indicated that Prunus mume extract is a potential candidate for developing an oral antimicrobial agent to control or prevent dental diseases associated with several oral pathogenic bacteria.  Recent studies have also shown that Prunus mume extract may inhibit Helicobacter pylori, associated with gastritis and gastric ulcers.   Experiments on rats suggest that P. mume extract administered during endurance exercise training may enhance the oxidative capacity of exercising skeletal muscle, and may induce the muscle to prefer fatty acids for its fuel use rather than amino acids or carbohydrates, thus assisting endurance. 
Plum blossoms have been well loved and celebrated across East Asia, and in Vietnam of Southeast Asia.
The fuzzy-skinned Japanese apricots are sour to bitter to eat but are valued for adding yellow to orange color to a garden or patio. They range from 1 to 3 inches wide, smaller than the domestic apricot (P. armeniaca) and ripen in early summer. The Japanese call the apricot "anzu" and use it to make a pickle called ume boshi and ferment it into umishu, a kind of a liquor. The Chinese pickle it and dry it as a salty, sweet snack. While fresh apricots may not be congenial to the human palate, birds love them.