Monday, May 12, 2008

What on earth is a Tai Haku anyway?

So, as quite a few regular readers know or have deduced, tai haku is not my real name. When I started the blog in 2006 I decided I wanted to write under a pseudonym for no particular reason other than that it was what everyone else was doing and being new to the blogosphere I wasn't sure what it was like. I still like my anonymity and I still love my blogospheric namesake. You see, in addition to making me sound a little like a Jedi or ancient guru of some kind, Tai Haku is also the name of my favourite tree.


I'm told Prunus 'Tai Haku', also known as the Great White Cherry, is the largest flowered of all the cherries. The pure white flowers can get over 2 inches across. In addition to being big they are also abundant and rather endearingly simple and delicate.


In addition to perfection in its flowers, my namesake takes a quite beautiful mopheaded shape too. It also magnificently has a rather interesting history. The cultivar is, unsurprisingly, of Japanese origin and it was, again unsurprisingly, very popular there. Somehow however a lot of trees died off and/or were replaced by other varieties and remarkably by the ealy part of the 20th century Tai Haku had for several centuries been regarded as an extinct variety of almost mythic perfection. Brilliantly however a chap called Captain Collingwood Ingram found it growing in a Sussex garden in suburban England in the 1920's and the great tree was restored to popularity. All Tai Haku around the world, even japanese specimens descend from that tree.


Its history doesn't stop there. Many people will be familiar with the mass planting of flowering cherries in England's suburbs (often of the ghastly "pink perfection"). Often I've commented to my father as to how much better the world would be if Tai Haku had been planted in favour of these lesser varieties. I subsequently learned last year that in the very earliest years of the campaign to beautify Britain in the mid-20th century Tai Haku was singled out as just the tree for that job. Somehow that got generalised to flowering cherry and we ended up in the current position.

These pictures were all taken of 2 lovely little trees in RBG Kew's cherry walk (look out for them in season) and we also have a couple dotted around our own garden that are spectacular even at small size. The best specimen I've ever seen is a monster one tucked behind King's College Chapel in Cambridge (England). If you ever spend time in Cambridge look my old friend up.

So there you have it; beauty, grace, history, widspread admiration - what better qualities could I ask for in a namesake? Oh yeah - a star wars sounding name!


John said...

I love ornamental cherries! I'm not sure if I have seen a "Tai Haku" variety, though.

Patrick Belardo said...

I get it now! I always thought it had something to do with poetry. You are Jedi in many ways for sure!

Mike said...

Mystery solved. Brilliant, Tai!


I ran off to find out if you were a man or a woman after reading this post. : ) The only person I know who would use a name because it sounds like a Star Wars character is my husband. Is Amadala a flower btw? That name sounds like one.

garden girl said...

Cool name, fabulous tree! How lovely those blossoms are.