Daily Flower Candy: Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’

Reading time 5 minutes

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’: winter-flowering cherry, rosebud cherry


January can be a debilitating month, all dark, dreary and joyless. When I think of January, little positive springs to mind, only diets, resolutions, needing to exercise, refraining from alcohol, writing thank you cards and the guilt related to not tackling any of the aforementioned, which I haven’t, in case you were wondering. Although I celebrate my birthday early in the New Year, it is still a struggle to motivate myself in the days and weeks that follow. As a gardener, I search fervently for the slightest sign that spring is approaching; a faint glow in the sky at 7am; the emergence of narcissi and snowdrops through cold soil; a proliferation of seed catalogues dropping through my letter box. I look at my garden and struggle to imagine it could ever attain the glories of August again. Yet over the last week or so the birds have changed their tune. I ought to be able to discern which is which from their song, but I cannot. I do know that they’re aware that spring is coming. This morning, walking to the station, the birds were singing a wistful melody, as if exclaiming ‘here we go again!’. I understood exactly what they meant.

If I were a bird, and thank goodness I am not as I am not great with heights, there’s only one tree I’d want to perch in right now, and that’s Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, the rosebud cherry. So ubiquitous is this tree in gardens that I guarantee you have seen one, even if you have not acknowledged it. The rosebud cherry is one of those trees that fades all too readily into the background, yet is endowed with many sound qualities. An elegant silhouette is not one of them, let’s get that out of the way first, but its natural shape is pretty enough and charming for a meadow, orchard or wild garden. The canopy is not dense, allowing planting beneath, but be aware that flowering cherries have shallow roots so are not suited to planting in frequently mown lawns.



Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, has pink-tipped buds that open into blush-white blossom. The variety ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ is a subtle variation with mature flowers that are slightly, well, rosier. Both trees bear blossom on naked branches any time from October to April, but most prolifically when the weather is mild. A few stems cut and placed in a vase of water will remind you of spring during the depths of winter. The delicate blossom is occasionally followed by small, bitter fruits beloved by birds. In spring, bronze-tinged foliage bursts forth from tight buds before turning an anonymous green. Then in autumn, you can look forward to the leaves turning golden-yellow before falling.

Small, hardy and tolerant of any soil type, Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ is a tree for all seasons and all but the tiniest gardens. With so many positive attributes it’s hard to fathom why it’s not more widely applauded. Perhaps it’s considered too commonplace, or just not enough of a statement in an age where static, architectural plants are all the rage. Overlook the rosebud cherry if you will, but you’ll be missing one of the only joyous things to happen in January. TFG.


Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Plants, Trees and Shrubs, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

Leave a Reply

11 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’"

  1. The tree so magnificent and blooms a much needed shot in the arm during this dull period. Their flower almost like a mini star magnolia when the bloom is maturing. Dan post on witch hazels when they are out as I believe there are all kinds and colors in England. The earliest flowering anything here are forsythia. I thought your spidey senses were always able to decifer what the birds were telling you. Are robins indigenous to your parts? Are they the prime harbinger to spring?

    1. The National Collection of witch hazels is in Kent, not far from where I live. I would like to go and visit one day. They are lovely shrubs but I don’t have the right conditions for them, or enough space.

      Robins are native and active all year round in England, but they are to Christmas what Cardinals are in the US and Canada. I tend to think of blackbirds as more of a spring bird as they are always so industrious and noisy. Mine make an incredible mess picking over the moss on the garage roof, but I forgive them.

  2. Had a cherry in the front garden two houses ago. It wasn’t winter-flowering, but it was a lovely thing nonetheless. I miss that tree more than I miss the house. I find it very hard not to pack the yard out with the earliest of spring bloomers, in hopes of exactly the January & February lift you speak of; all I’ve done at this house is put in hellebores that dutifully return every year but never seem to bloom…

  3. Gulp. Are you talking about those large blackbirds that are really smart and have crazy cognitive ability and memory. If I’m right. They scare me. Also don’t people bake them in pies according to lore ? 🙁😃🙁😃

    1. The blackbirds I am talking about are the common Eurasian kind, Turdus merula. I believe the Victorians attempted to teach them songs and the Beatles sang about them. I think perhaps you are thinking of crows, rooks or ravens. They are black birds, but bigger and much less pretty!

  4. Don’t feel bad… I can’t tell one bird from another either. And, nope. I haven’t started in any good New Years intentions, either. But I do appreciate a good tree! 🙂

  5. I stand corrected. We don’t have that species in North America, we have the red winged kind , Agelaius phoeniceus. I’ve been pecked in the head a few times when I got too close to their nests. Yes it’s crows that have incredible memories. I read in the Guardian that since it’s been mild in the UK there will be a plethora of songbirds this spring

  6. Could the reason these trees aren’t appreciated more simply be the fact that they seem “out of season”? Beautiful as they are – I do not think cherry blossom fits well with autumn and winter (except perhaps in a vase). It’s something I associate with spring, and so the autumn ones – although I know this is their natural time – always make me frown a little. Especially since unlike with other ornamental cherries not all buds open at once, so it seems more like a “mistake” due to unseasonal weather. Same with autumn-flowering crocus. A bit like coming across chocolate santas in the supermarket in mid-August.

  7. Ooops, just saw your Insta-pics from Christmas World trade fair in Frankfurt: feelings of “wrong season” and especially “chocolate santas in mid-August” probably don’t faze or trouble you when you start the next Christmas season by late January already :-). Have a good time there and save journey, as always!

Follow The Frustrated Gardener and have new posts sent directly to your inbox

Join 8,218 other subscribers

Wordpress users click to subscribe here

Follow The Frustrated Gardener