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Early to bloom, early to fall: How record March weather is impacting Vancouver's cherry blossom trees

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The organizers of the annual Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival used to be able to accurately predict when the city’s iconic trees would come into bloom. But in recent years?

“It’s gotten trickier,” said festival founder Linda Poole. “They used to follow suit pretty well and come out predictability, and now with climate change, this year was the most challenging.”

After a run of record-breaking heat in March, the pale pink Akebono cherry trees blossomed two weeks early, throwing a bit of a wrench into the festival’s April activities.

“I blame it all on climate change, but we have to deal with it. And today the cherry blossoms have laid a pink carpet for us, so it’s still beautiful, petals falling is very romantic,” said Poole.

The festival’s executive director Andrea Arnot says there are still plenty of events to enjoy.

“We will have our Sakura days Japan fair at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, where we celebrate everything Japan, from food, arts, culture, performances," Arnot said.

"We will have a bike the blossoms announced soon when people can get on their bike and ride around with a guide and see some beautiful blossoms, and we still have a few tree talks and walks left where people can learn tree facts."

One of those fun facts? Vancouver got its very first cherry trees as gifts from Japan back in the 1920s.

“The mayors of our sister city Yokohama and Kobe gifted us 500 flowering cherry trees and that's how it all started, and then Vancouverites fell in love with them, and the park board started to plant more and more in every neighborhood,” said Poole.

While the weather has made planning the festival more difficult, it’s also gotten more popular.

“At first it’s for the locals, and then the world finds out you have great cherry blossoms, and then the world comes,” said Poole.

Tour companies are now offering springtime guided trips to Vancouver just to see the blossoms.

“What I love is when they see the cherry blossoms they start dancing and singing, they just kind of break out in joy,” said Poole.

“Lonely Planet has just named Vancouver as the fourth best place to view cherry blossoms in the whole world, so we hope that will bring even more people to Vancouver,” said Arnot.

While a cherry blossom shot has become a must-post Instagram photo, festival organizers hope locals and tourists take it beyond social media.

“We want people to come out and interact with people at our events, because it’s more than just the selfie, right?” said Poole

“We have dark grey winters in Vancouver, and Vancouver has been dubbed a lonely city, and I think our festival is kind of that coming of spring and coming out and seeing your neighbours and friends and being outdoors again,” added Arnot.

And it’s not over yet. The Akebono trees are already nearing the end of their flowering, but the darker pink Kanzan variety have yet to blossom.

“We need warmer temperatures, 15 to 17 degrees and more sunlight, and that brings them out,” said Poole. “So it will depend on the location of the street, but I would say in a week some of them are going to come out.”

The festival’s website has a map listing the best places to see cherry blossoms in Vancouver, including the variety and when it should be in bloom, which can be seen here

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