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Last week I was sitting with a neighbor admiring the commanding view of our lane from his large living room window when he said, “And in a week’s time these trees on both sides will go completely white with flowers.” As we spoke, the trees were bare and bald.

We hadn’t been in the US in this season before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But rather quickly over 3-4 days, the dead looking branches began to burst into buds and then flowers. Some trees raced ahead of others but soon everything leveled up to one uniform white fluff. And suddenly, all at once, they began to look like—why, weren’t they Cherry blossoms? All the pictures of the famous Japanese festival came flooding to mind and indeed these flowers were exactly like those.

At the peak of the nature’s show I stepped out with my camera one evening and again the following morning, and brought these pictures. (The sunlit ones are the evening pictures; morning turned out to be overcast the next day.)

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Then, even more convinced that I had hit upon cherry blossoms, I Googled and landed surprising results.

No, ours can’t be cherry blossoms; they have to be something else. California is on the same latitude as Japan and the Cherry Blossom dates in Japan are in the first week of April or the last week of March, not in the middle of February. But furthermore, and to my great surprise, I learnt that Cherry Blossom festival is celebrated even in the US! All over the US, starting officially with Washington DC, and in coordination with Japan!! (In fact, if you weren’t careful, Google would have you believe that Cherry Blossom is more an American festival than Japanese! Of all the first page sites, only one refers you to the exclusive Japanese details!) History has it that the American cherry trees are of Japanese origin; a gift of these trees seems to have been made by Japan at the beginning of 20th century in a bid to enhance growing friendship. Surprising that there had been cordial exchange of cherries between the two countries before Pearl Harbor and the Bombs!

So, then, what are these flower trees in front of our house and in the neighborhood and, as I gradually discovered, all over the region, including flower-laden branches sticking out in the wilderness of the expressway? These are Ornamental Pears, the neighbors told me.

Go ahead, Google Ornamental Pears as I did and be prepared to be surprised. They look no different from the Japanese cherry blossoms! Or my pictures, for that matter!!