Thursday, March 3, 2011

The almond blossom – The Israeli Sakura (?)

Almond blossom near Beit-Shemesh

In Japan this time of year is when the Sakura is celebrated. The Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen (cherry-blossom front) as it moves northward up the archipelago. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April.  Japanese turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties. Hanami (flower watching) festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom and for many it is a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view. The custom of hanami dates back many centuries in Japan, there are records showing hanami festivals being held as early as the third century CE.

Now clearly Israel is very far from Japan and not only geographically. There are many differences between the countries for example the weather, the food and even the way people greet each other. There is a talented American blogger living here that writes about the cultural differences between Israelis and Japanese. But in March, Israel also goes through a season of bloom, when the almond trees all over the country blossom in beautiful ethereal whites and pinks. Almond trees can be found growing wild on hills and mountains or planted in people backyards and municipal gardens. Though there is no official festival marking the event of almond blossom in Israel we do celebrate this time of year by going out to the parks and nature reserves for hikes and picnics. And we do have a special name for the almond tree, it's called Shkedia (almond in Hebrew is "shaked").
Almond blossoms from all over the country

Almonds and cherries like Israelis and Japanese are different but they belong to the same botanical family of The Rosaceae or rose family. It is a large family of flowering plants. The name is derived from the type genus Rosa. The largest genus by far is Prunus (plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds). Roses can be herbs, shrubs or trees. They have a worldwide range, but are most diverse in the northern hemisphere. Several economically important products come from the Rosaceae, these include many edible fruits (such as apples, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, and strawberries), almonds, and ornamental trees and shrubs (such as roses, meadowsweet, photinias). So almonds and cherries are cousins. And like the Sakura the almond blossom is short lived and when the flowers disappear new green leaves appear and the formation of the fruit.  The Almond (Prunus dulcis) is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. Almond is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree. The fruit of the almond is not a true nut, but a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed ("nut") inside. The almonds we eat are usually shelled  and the blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seed coat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo.
Pistachio and Chocolate Macaroons made with grounded almonds


  1. Informative post and beautiful pictures, Tracking sakura sounds like the fall foliage in New England. There isn't a festival but the weather centers track the changing colors for visiting tourists.

  2. In Israel we are usually tracking the Zambura, and unlike the primitive Japanese, we do it all year round.
    Thanks for another excellent post.