This stop is excerpted from Planting Edo, a field guide created in partnership with the Harvard Art Museums. The guide pairs Arboretum specimens with paintings from the Museums' exhibition Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection.
Flowering cherry, or sakura in Japanese, is a complex group of plants that blossoms briefly and magnificently in early spring. They have long been celebrated for both their exquisite beauty and the poignancy of their short lives. The Higan cherry, scientific name Prunus subhirtella, is among this group. It can vary in shape and size, but typically is short and bushy with branches covered in an abundance of pale pink blossoms. The cherries can have either single flowers (5 petals) or semidouble flowers (usually 8–14 petals).
This painting is part of a cycle depicting the Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months by Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828). Here, cherry blossoms symbolizing the third month of the year likely depict a specific type of Higan cherry—the weeping Higan cherry, or Prunus subhirtella pendula—with long, blossom-laden tresses that bend gracefully toward the ground. The blue bird perched momentarily among the trailing blossoms is a Siberian robin.
Sakai Hōitsu, Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months, Japanese, Edo period, c. 1820–28. One from a set of 12 hanging scrolls; ink, color, and gold on silk. Harvard Art Museums, Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, TL42096.14. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.