›› Jan Firstbrook
We know that spring is coming when flowering plum and cherry trees start blossoming in February and continue until May in successive waves. The flowering plum trees blossom first and their small sour plums are eaten by birds and can even be made into plum sauce. Whereas, flowering ornamental cherry trees have large, fragrant flowers without fruit.
In Japan, cherry blossom season is very important to Japanese culture. Hanami or “flower viewing” is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers. There are festivals, parties, and picnics under the flowering trees. This tradition demonstrates a special appreciation and wonder for the cherry blossoms—sakura—that symbolize both the renewal of life and the fleeting nature of life.
In 1937, the City hosted a parade celebrating the incorporation of Victoria, and a float sponsored by members of Victoria’s Japanese community association—Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNCS)—won first prize. They donated the $300 prize money to the City to purchase 1000 trees to be planted in Beacon Hill and surrounding areas. This historical gift was “a gesture from the immigrant community to thank Victoria and Canada for allowing us to start a new life in Canada,” said VNCS president Tsugio Kurushima.
Throughout the years the City continued to plant both ornamental plum and cherry trees. Now these blossoms are an iconic feature of Victoria and draw tourists and locals alike to share in their splendour. The city has a map of ‘Spring Blossoms in the City of Victoria’ at vicmap.maps.arcgis.com. The map divides the blossoms into early and late varieties. It locates each cherry tree in Victoria. When you click on the tree, it identifies the common name as well as a botanical name such as Prunus serrulata and the average date for blossoms—usually between April 15 to May 15.
Fernwood is fortunate to have streets filled with the various types of flowering trees and staggered blossoming times. Stanley Avenue has both the earlier plums and the later blooming cherries; in particular, the Kwanzan cherry whose multiple pink petals drift lazily towards Begbie Street. In 2019, there was discussion by City of Victoria council concerning the future of the cherry trees. A motion was passed February 28, 2019 that encourages the Parks Department to be maintain and replant flowering cherry trees due to their historic importance and symbolic significance. These trees are resilient and are able to adapt to the stresses of climate change. After a harsh winter and dreary skies, let us celebrate the magic of cherry blossoms.
Photo caption: A flowering Prunus serrulata ‘kwanzan’ cherry tree on Gladstone at Stanley. Photo: Mila Czemerys