Van Gogh made this painting after a Japanese print by Hiroshige from the extensive collection he shared with his brother. He closely followed the composition of Hiroshige, but did not stick to the exact colours of the original. The Oriental characters he painted on the frame were derived from a Japanese example. The text they create has no coherent meaning and their function is primarily decorative.
The ancient plum tree that was the subject of the original print by Hiroshige had the poetic nickname of 'the sleeping dragon plum tree'. A name it got from the way that the tree branched out via a network of underground roots only to emerge above ground somewhere else.