Cherry blossoms bloom across Hamilton. Go see them before they go

Pink, white and impossibly delicate, cherry blossoms have been bursting across Hamilton – but they won’t be around for long.

A sure sign of spring, ornamental flowers always attract crowds of admirers and selfie-goers hoping to capture a bit of their fleeting beauty.

Right now they are in full bloom.

“The flowers are very short-lived. It’s beautiful and then it’s gone,” said Patricia Simpson, president of the Hamilton chapter of the National Association of Japanese Canadians.

The symbol of Japan offers a lesson as well as beauty, she added.

“You have to seize the moment because if you don’t, tomorrow they’ll be gone,” Simpson said. “It’s a metaphor for life.”

A nice present

Families flocked to the flowers on Sunday, posing for photos and gently pulling the branches to smell their fragrance.

Angeline Chua was there with three generations of her family, from her daughter Zoey to her in-laws.

Many cherry trees in Hamilton were a gift from Japan under a project called Project Sakura, which ended in 2012. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

They were drawn to the flowers in Bayfront Park after being locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“We have a nice stretch to take pictures,” Chua said, pointing to the flower-laden branches behind her.

The trees were a gift from Japan, she added. “It’s wonderful to share peace between countries.”

Many of the cherry trees that bring so much color and joy to Ontario were donated through something called the Sakura Project.

Before ending in September 2012, 3,082 trees were planted at 58 locations, from schools and research sites to public parks and care facilities across the province.

Baby Ava Cekan looks curiously at the cherry blossoms as her grandmother, Zlata, holds her. Her mother Jessica and her father Robert were at Bayfront Park to take some pictures. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Launched by the Consulate General of Japan in Toronto, the project aimed to promote understanding between Japan and Canada.

“The Japanese have immense affection for Sakura, her beauty being a source of great national pride,” read a shared statement at the end.

A “beloved sign of spring,” the Japanese tradition of gazing at Sakura while enjoying a picnic, has since spread to Ontario as well, he added.

Sunlight peaks through cherry blossom trees at Bayfront Park. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Alex Henderson said his mum liked to tell an “embarrassing” story about parking his pram (pushchair) under a cherry tree.

“Apparently one of the first words I learned to say as a child was ‘flower,'” said the curator of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) Living Collections.

“I guess I had to find the right job,” he joked.

Cherry blossoms can be found in the Arboretum, Rock and Laking Gardens at RBG, as well as Gage Park and Centennial Park in Dundas and other sites scattered around the region.

The twin rows of flowering trees in Bayfront Park mark the 20th anniversary since the councilor voted to accept them as a gift in 2002.

After flowering, the flowers only last five to 10 days, Henderson said.

Food for pollinators and a sign of spring

As one of the first trees to flower, they are also important for insects and other pollinators.

“If you lay under the trees, all you can hear is the buzzing and clouds of bees doing all the pollination,” Henderson said.

Flowers also have an impact on people.

“I just think this is the first harbinger of summer after we’ve been through such long winters here,” the curator added.

Cherry blossoms only last five to 10 days, according to Alex Henderson, curator of living collections at the Royal Botanical Garden. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The RBG is home to two “sister collections” of cherry trees, with likely 15 different species between them, according to Henderson.

The older siblings were planted in the 1960s and 70s, while the younger siblings were added around 2010 as part of the Sakura Project.

“Cherry trees, in terms of trees, have a very short lifespan,” Henderson explained. “They only have about the lifespan of a human being.”

They may only be there for a short while, but the curator pointed out that even when the petals fall, they leave behind a colorful white that covers the ground.

“It’s one of the spectacular things in nature,” he said. “It’s just incredibly beautiful.”

A kite flies over branches laden with cherry blossoms at Bayfront Park in Hamilton on May 8, 2022. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

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