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Cherry blossoms blooming in Canada: Here's what to know

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There is a swaying sea of colour in some cities across Canada, and it's a sure sign of spring: cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Toronto's High Park is famous for its canopy of flowering Sakura trees, which are now officially in peak bloom, according to the High Park Nature Centre.

"That means more than 70 per cent of blossoms are now open," said park spokesperson Rohith Rao. In Vancouver, pink "kanzan" blossoms have already wowed visitors.

While most trees will have a peak-bloom period, the length of time it lasts depends on the location and weather conditions. Once the flowers are open, they are fragile to the elements.

"Warm and unsettled weather means we can have shorter bloom periods. Cool and calm can extend that period," said Rao. The typical bloom period is only between four and 10 days. Even with ideal conditions, the season can be short.

The bountiful blooms attract hundreds of thousands to the Toronto park each year, and there's even a "Cherry Blossom Hotline" for people to call and get the latest news. The nature centre monitors the blossoms, predicts peak bloom and tracks annual trends for cherry blossoms throughout the city.

Blossom development is a temperature-sensitive process. Trees will bloom early when encouraged by warm weather, while cooler conditions will delay bloom.

A woman walks past flowering cherry trees in Centennial Park, in Toronto, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Unpredictable flowers

Vancouver has more than 43,000 cherry trees. But this year, many of the pink blossoms landed on the ground earlier than people could enjoy.

"Our Akebono, which is a cultivar … came a little bit early," said Andrea Arnot, executive director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. The tree bloomed two weeks early following a stretch of record-warm weather in March. Then, the petals fell to the ground quickly.

"They used to follow suit pretty well and come out predictably," said festival founder Linda Poole. "Now, with climate change, this year was the most challenging."

Where did they come from?

The trees can be found in cities across the country, and many of them were gifts from Japan. In Vancouver, in the early 1930s, mayors of Kobe and Yokohama presented the park board with 500 Japanese cherry trees to be planted at the Japanese cenotaph in Stanley Park, honouring Japanese Canadians who served in WWI. Years later, the trees were planted along city boulevards.

In Toronto, the first trees were planted in 1959 during an event spearheaded by Japanese-Canadian leaders and community members with a vision to build a Japanese garden in a public park.

After much fundraising, the Japanese ambassador to Canada presented 2,000 sakura trees to Toronto on behalf of Tokyo citizens. They were planted in appreciation of Toronto accepting re-located Japanese-Canadians following the Second World War.   

Onlookers have enjoyed the yearly blooms ever since.

"They're magnificent. The aroma, the fragrance of the sakura cherry blossoms are just incredible," said Alice Benlolo, who was visiting the trees at York University in Toronto. 

"With all the political negativity going on," said another visitor, Yoram Rostas. "this is so nice, to come take a break."

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