Please walk, cycle or use the TTC to visit the cherry blossoms.
Celebrate spring’s arrival with a visit to High Park and participate in the centuries old Japanese tradition of Sakura Hanami, roughly translated as “cherry blossom flower viewing”. The spectacular flowering of the Sakura (Japanese flowering cherry) trees is not to be missed – plan on spending at least an hour wandering under the blossoms and appreciating the beauty of High Park in the spring. Remember your camera!
The blooming of High Park’s Sakura trees typically occurs in late April – early May. During the odd spring when Toronto’s winter has been harsh and cold, the trees do not bloom at all because even the most cold tolerant flowering cherry tree species are at their northern limit of bud-hardiness in Toronto.
In 1959, the Japanese ambassador to Canada, Toru-Hagiwara, presented 2000 Japanese Somei-Yoshino Sakura trees to the citizens of Toronto on behalf of the citizens of Tokyo. The trees were planted in appreciation of Toronto accepting re-located Japanese-Canadians following the Second World War. Many of these trees were planted on the hillside overlooking Grenadier Pond (southwest of the Grenadier Café) and around the east shore of the pond.
In 1984, a grove of Japanese cherry trees were planted along a pathway west of the Children’s Adventure Playground in High Park. The trees were donated by Yoriki and Midori Iwasaki as a special gift to the people of Toronto and “a joyful symbol of life”.
Through the Consulate General of Japan in Toronto’s “Sakura Project”, 34 Yoshino ‘Akebono’ and Kwanzan ‘Fugenzo’ Sakura trees were donated to High Park in 2001 on the east shore of Grenadier Pond near the Maple Leaf garden. In 2006, 16 additional Yoshino Sakura trees were planted near the original 1959 planting site.
Plaques commemorating each of the plantings can be found under the cherry trees in High Park.
Sakura is the Japanese name for flowering cherry trees and their flowers – often referred to as cherry blossoms. The most popular variety of flowering cherry tree in Japan is the Yoshino. The Yoshino Cherry tree was first introduced to North America in 1902. In Japan there is a legend that each spring a fairy maiden hovers low in the warm sky, wakening the sleeping cherry trees to life with her delicate breath.
Sakura trees are the first to bloom, with flowers that are nearly pure white with a hint of pink near the stem. The blossoms last for about a week, before the leaves come out. Due to their very short bloom time, Sakura blossoms are seen as a metaphor for life itself, luminous and beautiful, yet fleeting and ephemeral.
The Japanese traditional custom of hanami or “flower viewing” dates back to the Nara Period (710-794) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan with their custom of enjoying flowers. Ume (Japanese apricot) blossoms were admired by most during this period, but by the Heian Period (794-1191) cherry trees attracted more attention and were planted and cultivated for their beauty, especially in Kyoto (Japan’s capital city during this era). The custom of hanami was originally limited to the elite and Japanese nobility but soon spread to samurai society and then blossomed to include all levels of Japanese society.
To this day, when the Sakura trees bloom, Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami, gathering in great numbers during the day or evening to hold feasts and drink sake under the flowering trees. Many people also take part in processional walks through parks, contemplating and renewing their spirits under the Sakura trees. Hanami at night is called yozakura (meaning “night sakura”). In many places, paper lanterns are hung under trees for yozakura.
The Japanese Meteorogical Agency provides daily reports on the “sakura zensen” (cherry blossom front) as warmer weather moves up the island. Blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and reaches Tokyo by the end of March or beginning of April.
Sakura trees are not limited to Japan and High Park! Thanks to the “Sakura Project”, many other sites in Toronto are graced by these beautiful trees, including the CNE and the University of Toronto’s main and Scarborough campuses. Outside of Toronto, blossoms can be viewed at McMaster University and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. Cherry blossom viewing is a rite of spring in many cities across North America, where Sakura Matsuri (matsuri means “festival”) are held to celebrate the beauty of the Sakura trees.
While Sakura trees are not native to High Park’s ecosystem, the small fruits of the Yoshino and Akebono cherry trees are a source of food for many resident songbirds including American Robins and Northern Cardinals. Baltimore Orioles that have just migrated back to High Park in early May are often seen feeding on nectar from the Sakura blossoms.
For more information on High Park’s varieties of Sakura trees:
For more information on the Sakura Project, please visit the Consulate General of Japan in Toronto’s website
Compiled by the High Park Nature Centre (see website).