Plum

Prunus mume, Japanese flowering apricot, translated as "plum blossom" (梅花).

Plum blossoms are the first flowers to appear in the early spring in Japan—and often when there is still snow on the ground in China—thus making them an emblem of perseverance and purity in East Asian cultures.

The plum carries much symbolism. In China, the five petals represent the Five Blessings: old age, wealth, health, love of virtue, and a natural death. It is a common motif during Lunar New Year celebrations. Because the plum is the first flower to bloom while the winter air still bites, it represents the vitality and vigor of nature. And in classical Chinese writing, the character for plum blossom expresses the virtues of courage and strength.

In art, the plum is considered one of the “Three Friends of Winter” with pine and bamboo, as well as a member of the noble “Four Gentlemen” with the orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo.

The five-petaled plum blossom is the national flower of the Republic of China in Taiwan.

Japan often celebrates the blooming of plum trees with many plum festivals (ume matsuri) that take place all over the country. The ume is sometimes considered protection against evil, and plum trees are planted in the northeastern edge of gardens to guard against evil that comes from that direction. Some Japanese eat pickled plums for breakfast to guard against misfortune.

The fruit of the plum tree is consumed in a variety of ways, such as juice and liquor; pickled and preserved plums are often served with rice. Ume liquor, or plum wine, is popular in Japan and Korea. Smoked plums are used in traditional Chinese medicine to ward off parasites, stop ulcers, and to promote a strong digestive system and heart.

Resources

Asian Art Museum. “Three Friends of Winter.” 

Dai, Tony. “Plum Blossoms, First of Four Noblemen, in Chinese Art,” in Divine Performing Arts Chinese Spectacular, Vancouver, Canada.

Japan-Guide.com. “Plum Blossom.” 

Wikipedia. “Prunus mume.”

Selected works of art featuring Plums:

Spencer Museum of Art

Tsukioka, Yoshitoshi Japan, 1839-1892. Pine, Bamboo, Plum: Picture at Yushima, 1885. Color woodblock; vertical diptych. Museum purchase: R. Charles and Mary Margaret Clevenger Fund, 1999.015


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