Monday, March 30, 2015

Cherry and almond blossoms

Cherry blossoms

In the Japanese film After Life (Wandâfuru raifu-1998) directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, the role of Kiyo Nishimura was played by Hisako Hara.  Kiyo, an old woman, has died and along with 21 others arrives at a way station between life and death where they need to choose one memory to take into the afterlife for ever after. Kiyo loves cherry blossoms and walking underneath blossoming cherry trees is going to be the memory she takes with her. I can understand her decision.

Any fruit tree or shrub’s spring flowers are called ‘bahar’ in Turkish. This is also the word for spring.

In the spring when we went for Sunday drives when I was young, we took reckless liberties with other people’s orchards along the highway and broke several branches of ‘bahar’ off the trees. We didn’t think of this as wrong doing. We equated the blooming trees with spring wild flowers. Looking back I am glad that I had the experience. The presence of these beautiful blossoms in vases, exuding sweet smells became a source of serenity and enrichment throughout the week.

The blossoms were those of cherry and almond grown in the vicinity of Aydın. In the Rosaceae family Prunus is a genus of trees and shrubs which includes the plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds. Cherries belong to the subgenus Cerasus and almonds and peaches come under the subgenus Amygdalus.

Most eating cherries come from either Prunus avium, the sweet cherry or from Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry. The native ranges of both the sweet cherry and the sour cherry extend through Europe, western Asia and parts of northern Africa, and the fruit has been consumed throughout its range since prehistoric times. Wikipedia provides the information that a cultivated cherry is recorded as having been brought to Rome by Lucius Licinius Lucullus from northeastern Anatolia, modern day Turkey, also known as the Pontus region, in 72 BC. Sweet and sour cherry do not cross pollinate.

“The English word cherry, French cerise and Spanish cereza all come from the classical Greek (κέρασος) through the Latin cerasum, thus the ancient Roman place name Cerasus, today a city in northern Turkey Giresun from which the cherry was first exported to Europe.” (

In 2011 Turkey was the top producer of cherries before USA, Iran, Italy and Spain. In Turkish the word is kiraz.

Cherry blossoms can be pink or white depending on the cultivar. Ornamental cherry trees produce pink flowers and they do not bear fruit. Prunus avium is a deciduous tree growing to 15-32 m tall and its flowers are white. The flowers are produced in early spring at the same time as the new leaves but the leaves are small so for a while one can observe only the glorious blossoms on the trees.

The flowers are borne in corymbs of two to six together. This means a flat topped inflorescence in which the stalks reach the same height. Cherry blossoms are hermaphroditic and bees pollinate them.


The fruit is a drupe 1–2 cm in diameter and bright red to dark red (some cherry cultivars are yellow) in color. They mature in midsummer. Each fruit contains a single hard-shelled round stone the size of a large pea. The seed (kernel) inside the stone is 6–8 mm long.

     Pomegranate, oleander, loquat and cherry

                                                                             Sour cherry blossoms and fruit              

Almond Blossoms

In 1888 and 1890 Vincent van Gogh made several paintings of blossoming almond trees in Arles and Saint-Rémy in the south of France. Almond Blossoms (1890) was made to celebrate the birth of his nephew and namesake, son of his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo. The almonds blossom early, as early as February in warmer parts of the Mediterranean and for van Gogh they represented life and hope.

                                                                                       Almond Blossoms 1890

Almond blossoms come as axillary buds in threes and they are sessile, that is not raised on a peduncle but attached directly by the base. An axillary bud is a shoot between the stem and the leaf stalk.


The almond is a deciduous tree, growing 4–10 m. The flowers are white to pale pink, 3–5 cm in diameter and have five petals. They are produced before the leaves in early spring.

The almond, Prunus dulcis (syn. Prunus amygdalus, Amygdalus communis, Amygdalus dulcis) (badem in Turkish) is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. Almond is also the name of the edible seed of this tree. The fruit of the almond is a drupe that measures 3.5-5 cm long consisting of a downy and leathery gray-green outer hull and a hard, woody shell with the edible seed (which is not a true nut) inside. The fruit matures in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering. Within the genus Prunus, the almond is classified in the subgenus Amygdalus and it is distinguished from the other subgenera by the woody and corrugated (with ridges and grooves) shell called the endocarp surrounding the seed.

Generally, one seed is present, but occasionally two occur. Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften and remove the seedcoat to reveal the white embryo.

Unripe green almonds last 15-20 days in the spring and they are a delicacy called çağla badem (pronounced chaala) in Turkey. The whole fruit, the downy green coat and the unripe seed inside is eaten perhaps with a pinch of salt. They have a milky and tangy taste.


The seeds of Prunus dulcis var. dulcis are predominantly sweet, but some individual trees produce seeds that are somewhat bitter. The fruits from Prunus dulcis var. amara are always bitter. The bitter almond is slightly broader and shorter than the sweet almond. Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond. Even in small doses, effects are severe, and in larger doses can be deadly; the cyanide must be removed before consumption.

                                             Bitter almond cookies 

It is not clear which wild ancestor of the almond is the domesticated species. The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant which tells us that the almond must have been taken into cultivation in this region.


Today USA is the top grower of almonds. “The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 49 states for the event. This business has been heavily impacted by ‘colony collapse disorder’ causing nationwide shortages of honey bees.” (

                                                                          Candied blue almonds of Mardin, Turkey
The blue coloring is mentioned to be from Lahore (Pakistan) trees. Research indicates that this may be Isatis tinctoria or a species of Indigofera

                                                                 Blanched almonds served on ice is a delicacy in Turkey. 

1 comment:

  1. So lovely! I've been seeing pink blossoming trees everywhere here in Geneva.