Okame Cherry Tree: History, Lifespan, Growth Rate, Problems & Care Guide

The Okame Cherry Tree, scientifically known as Prunus x incam, is a hybrid species resulting from a cross between Prunus incisa (Fuji cherry) and Prunus campanulata (Taiwan or bellflower cherry). This little tree reaches up to 8 meters in height and boasts a beautiful silver bark. But the real showstopper is its showy pink flowers, which are a sight to behold in the early spring.

This tree is known for being heat tolerant, cold tolerant, and easy to grow. Plant this tree with success almost any time during its growing season, provided you give the tree a bit of extra care after planting. The ‘Okame’ cherry grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9.

The Okame Cherry Tree is one of the earliest flowering of the Japanese cherries, and its flowers completely cover bare branches, appearing earlier than most and lasting longer than other flowering cherries. This means you get to enjoy the beautiful blooms for up to three weeks in late winter to early spring. The flowers are a deep carmine pink and produced on pendant pedicels.

But the beauty of the Okame Cherry Tree doesn’t end with its flowers. The tree also has orange-tinted green leaves, which turn yellow, orange, and red in the fall, providing year-round interest.

When it comes to planting, the Okame Cherry Tree is best planted in spring or fall. It prefers full sun and well-draining soil. Regular watering is necessary, especially during the first year after planting. However, the tree is drought tolerant once established.

History of Okame Cherry

The tree was developed by Collingwood Ingram in England by crossing the Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa) with the Formosan cherry (Prunus campanulata). This botanical experiment was not just for fun, though. Ingram aimed to combine the best features of both parents. He wanted the bright pink to carmine red flower colors of the Formosan cherry, and the reliable cold hardiness of the Fuji cherry. The result was the Okame Cherry Tree, a tree that would bloom early and could withstand a wider range of climates.

The tree was named after the traditional Japanese goddess of good fortune and mirth, perhaps in the hope that it would bring a bit of both to the gardens it graced. The Okame Cherry Tree made its debut in the world of horticulture in 1940, and it quickly became a favorite for its vibrant blooms and easy-going nature.

In 1988, the tree received a gold medal from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for its outstanding landscape qualities. This was a fitting tribute to a tree that had been designed to be both beautiful and hardy.

Characteristics of Okame Cherry

  • Growth Habit: It is a small deciduous tree. It has a vase-shaped form when young, becoming more rounded with age.
  • Size: This tree can grow to a height of 15 to 20 feet, and it spreads out to a width of 15 to 20 feet.
  • Growth Rate: It grows at a moderate rate, achieving about 1 to 2 feet each year. It takes the Okame variety around 7 to 10 years to fully mature.
  • USDA Zones: The tree thrives in USDA growing zones 5 through 9.
  • Leaves: The tree has alternate, simple leaves that are deep green with orange tints. They turn bronzy red to bright orange to red in the fall.
  • Flowers: I has showy pink flowers that completely cover bare branches. The flowers are a deep carmine pink and produced on pendant pedicels.
  • Bark: The tree has a silver bark.
  • Root System: Like many cherry trees, the Okame Cherry Tree’s roots are closer to the surface and tend to send out a lot of surface roots and sucker shoots.
  • Lifespan: In the context of flowering cherry trees, they live a short life of about 30 to 40 years.
  • Pollination: It produces large amounts of pollen but rarely produces fruit.

Okame Cherry Tree Propagation

Softwood Cuttings

Propagation from cuttings is the best way to clone your ornamental Okame cherry tree. Softwood cuttings are taken in late spring and early summer, when the tree puts out new growth rapidly. The cuttings are sections of a branch that is still green and springy. Each section is cut 4 to 10 inches long and has at least one leaf or set of leaves at the top. The cuttings are potted in containers with soilless planting medium and kept warm, between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Root Cuttings

Humidity plays a big role in a successful rooting process. A greenhouse is ideal, but if you don’t have one, you can create a makeshift greenhouse by placing a clear plastic bag upside down over the cutting to trap moisture that is absorbed by the leaves. When roots form at the bottom of the cutting, commonly within three to six weeks, the cutting is transplanted into a nursery pot. When propagating from cuttings, it’s always a good ideal to start more than you need, as some may fail to root successfully.


Grafting is a tricky process that is commonly used by nurseries and experts to propagate hybrid trees like the Okame Cherry. A grafted tree has the roots of one tree and the trunk and branches of another. The rootstock can be any sapling that is compatible with the Okame cherry tree. Other cherry trees with vigorous growth habit are commonly used. A slip from the desired tree is inserted under the bark of the rootstock sapling. When the graft is successful, it sprouts. At this point, the leaves and branches of the rootstock tree are cut down, leaving the Okame cherry to grow.

Diseases That Affect Okame Cherry

  • Black Knot: This fungal disease manifests as hard, black swellings or knots on the tree. If left untreated, it can cause severe damage and even kill the tree. The best treatment is to prune 3-4 inches below the knot during the dormant season.
  • Brown Rot: While this disease is a problem for the Kwanzan flowering cherry tree, it can also affect the Okame cherry. It causes the fruit to rot and can spread to the twigs if infected blossoms do not drop off. Prune any affected parts of the tree with sanitized pruning tools 4 to 6 inches below the sunken dead tissue.
  • Cherry Leaf Scorch and Leaf Spot: These foliar diseases cause dark spots on emerging leaves and young twigs. If the fruit is infected, it develops reddish bumps. Prune away all diseased parts of the tree.
  • Powdery Mildew: This biotrophic fungus coats cherry trees with a white powdery substance and can cause leaves to curl, twist, and become brittle. It’s one of the most common cherry tree diseases.
  • Cytospora Canker: This disease causes cankers that often ooze sap. Prune off these limbs at least 4 inches (10 cm.) below the diseased wood.

Common Insects That Affect Okame Cherry

  • Aphids: These tiny pests can cause the leaves of cherry trees to turn yellow and fall off. They are often found on the undersides of leaves and can be identified by the fine, silken webs they produce. To control aphid populations, increase humidity around the tree, introduce natural predators, or use chemicals if the infestation is severe.
  • Cherry Bark Tortrix: The larvae of this moth burrow into the bark of cherry trees, causing the bark to crack and the tree to become susceptible to diseases. To manage this issue, keep an eye out for signs of infestation and consider using a biological control method.
  • Borers: These insects can cause significant damage to cherry trees by tunneling into the wood, which can weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to disease. To prevent borer infestations, keep your tree healthy and free of stress, and consider using a pesticide if necessary.
  • Scale: These small insects attach themselves to the branches and leaves of cherry trees, feeding on the tree’s sap. They can cause the leaves to yellow and fall off, and can even kill the tree if the infestation is severe. To control scale, use a horticultural oil or a systemic insecticide.
  • Leafhoppers: These insects feed on the sap of cherry tree leaves, causing them to turn yellow and fall off. They can also transmit diseases from one tree to another. To control leafhoppers, use a strong stream of water to knock them off the tree, or use an insecticide if necessary.