Small flowers of any of several trees of the genus Prunus, especially the Japanese Cherry (Prunus serrulata, the suffix a Latin rendering of sakura). Usually seen falling or scattered as petals.
Cherry blossoms, especially the pink ones of the Prunus serrulata, are a significant visual motif in Japanese culture; as their period of flowering that lasts little more than a week during the spring is thought to symbolically convey an awareness of the brilliant, yet impermanent nature of life. The term mono no aware (物の哀れ, literally 'the pathos of things') was coined by 18th century scholar Motoori Norinaga to describe this concept as a theme found in classical Japanese literature, and associated it with the cherry blossom motif.
The white-colored autumn and winter blossoms (冬桜, fuyuzakura) of the higan cherry tree (Prunus subhirtella autumnalis) are a notable variant, coming into bloom during those seasons.
In anime and manga, besides straightforward symbolization of youth and verve, the symbol may be used to denote gentle and/or affectionate characters; though this usage can sometimes be ironic.
Cherry trees in anime art are almost always drawn in bloom, but the actual cherries don't grow until the blossoms are long gone. For images of cherry trees bearing fruit, search for cherry fruit_tree.