Vancouver’s 8th annual Cherry Blossom Festival will run from April 3rd to 28th this year. The city is famous for its thousands of cherry trees lining many residential streets and public parks. This annual celebration of transient beauty marks the reawakening of reproduction and new life in our community.
Vancouver is not the only city to celebrate the season. Beneath the cherry trees we are linked to millions more around the world: Tokyo, Hokkaido, Kyoto, Beijing, South Korea, Copenhagen, Paris, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Washington DC. It is said there are no strangers under cherry trees.
Celebrating Cherry Blossom Trees
The first cherry trees arrived in Vancouver from Japan in the 1930s. The original 500 trees were a gift from the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama thanking the city for honoring Japanese Canadian soldiers who died during WWI. A second wave of planting occurred in the 1950s, when the park board removed many of the larger elms and maples along city streets, whose roots were damaging sidewalks and sewers.
Today we celebrate the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival by commemorating this wonderful gift that now exceeds 40,000 trees. With more than 35 cherry tree varieties in the city, they do not produce fruit. The trees have been cultivated for ornamental use. Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver by Douglas Justice is an excellent guide to the different kinds of cherry trees across the city.
The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival began in 2005 as an annual city-wide, month long, non-profit event. A free family “Cherry Jam” event kicks off the annual Festival. For those interested in welcoming spring to the city a downtown lunchtime concert is held in the concourse of the Burrard Street Skytrain station. Mark your calendars for Thursday, April 3rd from noon to 1:30 pm and you will also hear the rhythms of traditional Taiko drumming. Why not get the entire office out in the sunshine to partake?
Cherry Tree Viewing Locations
Although there are a number of locations around the city where cherry trees exist, there are 7 prized neighborhoods that are considered to be best for viewing. For those interested, there are organized events for walks & talks, bicycle rides, picnics along with plenty of petals. Look for Cherry Scouts who give tours across Vancouver and watch for maps and schedules in The Vancouver Sun or on the web. By the end of the season, fluffy clouds of pink petals will be covering the city.
- VanDusen Botanical Garden offered a home for the festival in 2008. This is where the beautiful and plentiful Beni-shidare cherry trees are located. They are among more than 100 cherry trees, representing 24 varieties.
- Kitsilano Beach Park, nearby Vanier Park and H.R. MacMillan Planetarium feature Spire cherry trees and white Star cherry trees
- Granville Island has a cluster of bubble gum-hued, waterfront Akebonos near the community centre and Sutcliffe Park.
- West End / Stanley Park are where you find the Accolade trees, and a row of rarer Shirotae and Ojochin trees. These trees are some of the originals sent in the 1930’s from the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama and are surrounding the Japanese Canadian War Memorial.
- East Vancouver Oppenheimer and Andy Livingstone Parks have gorgeous Somei-yoshino and Akebono cherry trees. Like the trees at the Stanley Park Memorial, these have historical significance for Vancouver; In 1977, Japanese Canadian Issei pioneers planted 21 “sakura” (cherry blossom) (cherry blossoms) in the Park to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Canada’s first known immigrant from Japan. There are also Akebono cherry trees in bloom now at Andy Livingstone.
- Queen Elizabeth Park touts several varieties of cherry trees, which bloom at different intervals throughout early March and late April.
- Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC offers a peaceful and cultural experience where the cherry trees are in a traditional Japanese garden setting.
Delicate and Cherished Trees
On average ornamental cherry trees live about 80 years and “city lifespans” can average just 25-30 years owing to pollution and other issues. This means Vancouver has a lot of geriatric cherry trees to manage. It would seem easy enough to replace older trees with new ones – except for one problem. Quarantine regulations designed to prevent the spread of viruses to commercial cherry trees prohibit saplings from being imported from Japan. Some of the rare varieties of trees from Japan are virtually impossible to replace.
There has been some interesting cherry tree revival plans created by the British Columbia Institute of Technology. A “fountain of youth” was developed as a way to regenerate young trees from the older ones. Students took cuttings from six of the rarest varieties, and in a combination of old science and new science, were able to grow the cuttings. The successful outcome has been the return of the plants to a younger state that allows them to root and grow anew. The plan is to build up stock of the rarest varieties and replace old timers as they age.
- Single flowers have 5 petals
- Semi-double flowers have 6-10 petals
- Double blossoms have 10 petals or more
- Chrysanthemum cherry blossoms can have 100 petals
- Some cherry trees will have a fragrant almond scent
- Picking “sakura” (cherry tree) petals or branches is strongly discouraged for cultural and religious reasons. Falling sakura petals represent the reincarnated souls of warriors who fell in battle
- The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality
- Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika)
- Within one to two weeks the blooming peak is over. Strong wind and rain can shorten the blooming season.
- Cherry blossoms are a prevalent symbol in Irezumi, the traditional art of Japanese tattoos
For more information have a look here – History of the Cherry Blossom Trees and Beginners Guide to Cherry Blossom Viewing in Vancouver
“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” ~Kobayashi Issa