Japanese Flowering Cherries Kuitert, Wybe, 1999. ISBN 0-88192-468-7 395 (cloth, US $39.95) 395 pp. Timber Press, Inc., 133 S.W. Second Avenue, Suite 450, Portland, OR 97204-3527—Japanese Flowering Cherries by Wybe Kuitert with Arie Peterse arrives as another excellent work from Timber Press, though not from a particular series such as the Gardener's Guides. Kuitert teaches at the Kyoto University of Art and Design and directs the Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium while Peterse, a Dutch plant breeder, has studied and written about the flowering cherries which are found in various collections in Europe and the United Kingdom. American botanists and horticulturalists will be familiar with the annual blossoming in Washington, D.C., of the flowering cherries which were given by Japan to the US early in this century. A complete and workmanlike treatise could be expected from such authors as Kuitert and Peterse, but this book delights while it informs. Covering a popular horticultural subject, the authors weave history and horticulture using language which is lucid while holding the interest of the reader. This occurs despite the inclusion of copious detail, which can mar horticultural books by masking larger issues if the volume of information is not well handled. Japanese flowering cherries, like fruiting cherries, come from the genus Prunus (Rosaceae), but their outstanding feature is not their fruit, which is relatively small, but rather their glorious display of flowers in spring. Bred in Japan for this floral display, a number of Chinese and Japanese Prunus spp., such as P. serrulata and P. apetala, may figure in the parentage of the modern Japanese cherries.
The authors consider a wide variety of topics, beginning with both the native habitats of the various species which may be the ancestors of Japanese flowering cherries and the cultural requirements of the early cultivars. The wild species of flowering cherries are found throughout Japanese forests, though included in the text are notes about some species of Chinese cherries which may also be ancestors of the Japanese flowering cherries. The authors then turn to the connections between human history and the history of Japanese flowering cherries, considering the original connections with Japanese horticulture and with Japanese culture. The reader is led through changing fashions as the flowering cherry waxed and waned in popularity. The authors commendably avoid squeamishness—even the use of the cherry as a symbol during World War II receives consideration. The involvement of Europeans and Americans in the taxonomy of Japanese flowering cherries during their later history of Japanese flowering cherries is also considered.
The botany of the flowering cherry comes next, particularly in areas for which botanical detail is important for the classification and identification of flowering cherries. First the details of cultivation are presented with reference to the climatic areas from which the individual cultivars and their ancestors came. Second, the various wild species and selected cultivars are considered in individual entries with special forms receiving particular mention.
The authors fashion all of this description and analysis seamlessly as the text turns from one topic to another. The numerous illustrations are fascinating as well as being attractive and well rendered. These include images of Japanese prints which illustrate several famous cultivars. Japanese Flowering Cherries comes highly recommended for anyone who wants to read a well-told tale of one of the most famous floral displays in horticulture. In particular this book is relevant for University libraries, for interested amateurs, and for professionals who frequently encounter these trees in their work, such as landscape architects and those teaching horticulture. Buy a copy.—Douglas W. Darnowski