Taiwan Cherry Tree, a Tallahassee Nurseries Tradition

Exuberant, bright pink Taiwan cherry blossoms are a big part of springtime in Tallahassee. The eye-catching flowers are the earliest sign of the parade of spring blooms to come. These spectacular small trees hold a special place at Tallahassee Nurseries too. Introducing this plant to Tallahassee and keeping it in supply has been a unique Tallahassee Nurseries tradition that connects our past to the present.

Decades ago, the Taiwan cherry tree was all but unknown in North Florida. Then Gene Ellis, the former owner of Tallahassee nurseries, planted two trees in his front yard on Mitchell Avenue. In no time, he saw the value of these special trees. They grow super-fast but mature at a manageable 15’-20’, they reliably bloom every spring regardless of unpredictable weather, and their clouds of fuchsia pink flowers bring a cheerful elegance to Tallahassee gardens in January and February. He wanted to offer the trees for sale, but nobody was growing them.

Luckily, Mr. Ellis was a great gardener, and the moist fertile soil in his garden allowed dozens of seedlings to sprout each year under the soft shade of the fully grown cherry canopies. For years he would send a skilled employee to his house to dig up as many seedlings as they could find and plant them in pots back at the nursery. Many of the older Taiwan Cherry trees in Tallahassee came right from Mr. Ellis’s front yard. Over time a few growers started to produce the trees and that tradition died out.

Sadly, after the Great Recession many smaller growers went out of business, and this niche crop became hard to find again. Tallahassee Nurseries went a few years without any available for sale. Then one lucky day, I was walking in the Waverly Neighborhood when I saw a Taiwan Cherry tree full of ripe berries! A rare sight, because hungry birds tend to clean the trees within a day of ripening. 

I knocked on the front door and a slightly surprised homeowner agreed to let me pick as many berries as I could reach. I passed these seeds on to one of our local growers in Monticello, Florida and the next year he returned them to us as lovely 3 gallon trees ready for sale!

I’ve made it a habit to scout trees and collect seeds every year since to keep these gorgeous trees available. I love the trees for their value: providing honey bees with crucial food in the winter, berries for migrating spring birds, and fast-growing shade from trees that stay small enough to pose no serious threat in hurricanes. But for all those benefits, I’m most excited to be keeping this Tallahassee Nurseries tradition alive.

 

Watch a quick review for more information about the Taiwan Cherry Tree

*This article was written by Jonathan Burns, Tallahassee Nurseries Outdoor Manager, FNGLA Certified Horticultural Professional, VP Big Bend Chapter FNGLA

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