The cherry trees which have been in flower in recent weeks are the campanulata or Taiwanese cherries. Sometimes you will still see them referred to as Formosan cherries which may require a lesson in history for anybody under the age of about 60. True, the colours can be a little harsh in carmine pink, cerise and sugar-candy pink tones but on a bleak early spring day, who is going to quibble about the mass of flowers which appear on bare branches? The biggest bonus of the campanulatas is their attraction to tui who feed on the nectar. Our native birds are wonderfully unconcerned about whether or not their food sources are indigenous plants. We can have upwards of 30 tui bickering and squabbling for territory in a single tree, but they don’t stay still long enough to count accurately.
Campanulata cherries are not as hardy as the later flowering Japanese types but this is rarely a problem except in the coldest parts of the country. They are also more disease resistant and healthier in our climate and don’t succumb to the dreaded witches broom which can be a problem in other types. If you plant several (and being a tree of light stature, they are easy to fit in alongside other trees), you can have them flowering in succession over many weeks which keeps the tui at home. The big disadvantage is that many forms set seed freely and germinate readily. They are such a problem that they are on the banned list in Northland unless it is a known sterile form which doesn’t set seed. If you border native bush or a national park, make sure you search out forms advertised as sterile but otherwise you just have to be vigilant with your weeding.
(first published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission)