The brilliant white blossoms of the paperbark cherry variety 'Tibetica' make a memorable springtime sight against a bright blue sky. Click to download a large version of this image (800x600).
The main attraction of paperbark cherry is its beautiful glossy, mahogany red bark. The bark peels on older specimens, only adding to the interest. The tree is smallish, with a height seldom reaching 30 ft (9 m), and has a neat, rounded crown just about as wide. The narrow, willowlike leaves are 3-4 in (7-10 cm) long and turn yellow in autumn. The white flowers come out with the new leaves in spring. They aren't very large and tend to be hidden in the foliage. The cherries are bright red when ripe, about a half inch (1 cm) long, and not considered to be edible.
Location Prunus serrula is native to western China.
Culture Light: Grow in full sun. Moisture: Paperbark cherry can be grown in any fertile, well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5-8. This is a tree that likes a cool climate. Paperbark cherry is likely to succumb to viral diseases in warm, humid climates. Propagation: Seeds can be sown after stratifying for 10-14 weeks in damp, cool peat. Or, the seeds can be sown outdoors in autumn. Cultivars are propagated by grafting or by cuttings from fast growing new softwood in spring.
This mature Tibetan cherry took decades to reach its mature height of 30ft (9m). This tree is as famous for it's glossy smooth reddish bark (on younger stems, see inset) as for its beautiful blossoms.
Paperbark cherry is seldom encountered in American gardens any longer. Few nurseries offer it. That's a shame, because it makes a stunningly beautiful specimen tree for even a small landscape but it's susceptability to disease and insect damage has limited its appeal.
Paperbark cherry is especially beautiful in winter when the trunk is not obscured by foliage and the flowers are exquisite. Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) is easier to grow and has similarly beautiful blossoms but lacks it lustrous polished bark.