Year after year, viewing the cherry blossom trees is a well-loved spring tradition in Toronto.
During peak blooms, which usually only lasts between four and 10 days, depending on the weather conditions, thousands of Torontonians flock to local parks to snap the perfect photo of the blossoms.
But before taking your cherry blossom selfie, have you ever stopped to think about its significance?
Especially the iconic High Park cherry blossoms?
In case you haven’t, here are a few things you might not know about the High Park cherry blossoms.
While the Sakura trees in Toronto definitely look nice on your Instagram feed, they actually symbolize an invaluable friendship between Canada and Japan, says Consul General of Japan, Takako Ito.
Especially this year, as Toronto will celebrate 60 years of cherry blossoms in High Park, marking the anniversary of Tokyo’s generous donation of 2,000 cherry blossom trees to the city in 1959.
Many of the cherry blossom trees in High Park are close to 60-years-old. In 1959, the Japanese ambassador to Canada, Toru-Hagiwara, presented 2,000 Somei-Yoshino Sakura trees to the people of Toronto on behalf of Tokyo.
The trees were gifted in appreciation for Toronto’s acceptance of relocating Japanese-Canadians following World War Two. Most of the trees were planted on the hillside in High Park overlooking Grenadier Pond.
In 1984, an additional batch of cherry blossoms was donated by Yoriki and Midori Iwasaki as a special gift to the people of Toronto and “a joyful symbol of life.”
This batch of trees was planted along a pathway west of the Children’s Adventure Playground in High Park (near the Zoo parking lot).
In 2001 and 2006, a total of 50 additional cherry trees were planted near the original 1959 planting site as part of the Sakura Project, a symbol of friendship between Japan and Canada.
Despite not being native to Canada, the cherry blossom trees still benefit High Park’s ecosystem.
According to Toronto’s High Park Nature Centre, the fruits on the Yoshino and Akebono cherry trees are a food source for small mammals and the park’s resident songbirds.
The Sakura trees also help Toronto reduce its carbon footprint by storing carbon and creating more oxygen for residents to breathe.
Additionally, these beautiful trees help clean the air, soil, and water by absorbing pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
Because of Toronto’s Sakura Project, there are additional sites throughout the city that are filled with beautiful Sakura trees.
While there are a number of parks in the city filled with Sakura trees, residents can find cherry blossom trees at the University of Toronto’s main and Scarborough campuses, York University, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, John P. Robarts Research Library, Kariya Park in Mississauga, McMaster University, and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.
Sakura is a Japanese name for “flowering cherry trees and their flowers” and is often referred to as cherry blossoms, according to High Park Nature Centre.
Due to their very short bloom time, Sakura blossoms are seen as a metaphor for life itself, “luminous and beautiful, yet fleeting and ephemeral.”
By the Heian Period (794-1191) cherry trees began attracting attention and were planted for their beauty, mainly in Kyoto (Japan’s capital city during this era).
The Japanese traditional custom of hanami (flower viewing) was originally limited to the elite and Japanese nobility. Over time it became practiced by the samurai and eventually included all levels of Japanese society.
Today, when Sakura trees bloom in Japan, people continue the tradition of hanami, and gather in groups and eat and drink sake beneath the flowering trees — similar to what residents do in Toronto each spring.