Last spring, we could not fully enjoy the cherry blossom season, due to the lockdown. I recall being upset about it, compounded by the fact that the weather was soooo nice! Now it’s this time of the year again, and we are allowed to be outside, so off we go!
This post is specific to the Vancouver area, but I think all of you would benefit from a little educational piece. And yes – the connection to the “urban soundscapes” might not be obvious here, but every season, including spring, has its unique sophisticated notes, that I encourage everyone to explore and enjoy.
So, cherry blossoms.. or so we tend to call ALL the blooming trees in the city ( I will explain what I mean here shortly).
And you may ask yourself… How did they get here?
Vancouver currently has over 43 000 Japanese flowering trees. These trees were gifted to the city by Japan over the course of the 20th century, to commemorate the friendship, immigrants, WWI, and mutual history of the two countries. On this note, as a critical scholar, I am aware of the history of racism and discrimination towards the Japanese people in Canada, so I do take the “friendship” narrative with a grain of salt; however, this is how the history goes, and this is what the gift was about.
The first batch of trees was planted in Stanley Park. After the ’50s, the City had decided to rejuvenate the streets as well and started replacing elms and maples (due to their disruptive roots and large canopies) with the gifted Japanese trees.
Hanami is a Japanese tradition of “flower watching” that has found its reflection in the annual Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.
Now, this is my most important point.
Cherry is just one kind of the multitude of blooming trees that we get to enjoy in Spring, other kinds include magnolia, apple, but cherry (sakura) and plum (ume) are two types of Plantae genus that we most often get confused about, as they both have similar small pretty flowers and bloom around the same time… Using “cherry blossoms” as an umbrella term has become our habit; it is a common misconception, however, I do believe that knowing this difference is extremely important, especially if you’re a city roamer/photographer like myself. I would like to give you key points of differentiation:
-Plum flowers have a beautiful aroma; cherries usually have none.
-Unlike plums, cherry flowers have a small split on the end of each petal.
-Plums have reddish buds and leaves. If you see red on your tree, it’s probably a plum.
-White or pink flowers with yellow centres are usually cherries; pink flowers with red/bright pink centres are usually plums.
-Cherry trees are often umbrella-shaped and their branches almost grow outwards/horizontally. Their bark has horizontal lines. Plum trees are more straight and growing upwards, more vertically. They have no lines on the bark.
Now take a guess looking at these photos that I took this year (top) and last year (bottom): which one is cherry, and which one is plum?
If you were born in Lower Mainland, or have been a Vancouverite for longer than myself – you probably know this information well, so please comment if you have something else to add. It’s always pretty special to learn from those who have navigated the space for so long.
For more information, please refer to the beautiful Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website. I did not want to take too much information from it, because you can go read it any time:
Tiffin, B.T. (2012). REVITALIZING VANCOUVER’S JAPANTOWN: AN ARCHITECTURAL RESPONSE TO JAPANESE FOOD. Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Fly Over Canada (2020). Where to see cherry blossoms in Vancouver? Retrieved from Flyovercanada.com