New Hope for Vancouver’s Dying Cherry Trees

Photo credit: Geoffery Kehrig | Flickr

Photo credit: Geoffery Kehrig | Flickr

Vancouver’s cherry trees are dying.

But not to worry – It’s all part of the cycle of life.  On average ornamental cherry trees live around 80 years.  In city conditions, lifespans can average just 25-30 years owing to pollution and other issues, according to a great article in the Vancouver Sun by Jessica Barrett.

Many of Vancouver’s famous cherry trees – 37,000 of which are blooming right now – were originally gifted by the cities of Kobe and  Yokohama, Japan, in the 1930s.  A second wave of planting occurred in the 1950s, when the park board removed many of the larger elms and maples along city streets, whose roots were damaging sidewalks and sewers.

In other words,  Vancouver has a lot of geriatric cherry trees on its hands.  

It would seem easy enough to replace older trees with new ones – except for one problem.       Quarantine regulations designed to prevent the spread of viruses to commercial cherry trees prohibit saplings from being imported from Japan.  Some rare varieties of trees from Japan are virtually impossible to replace.

So are Vancouver’s days of spring blossoms and Cherry Blossom Festivals numbered?

Not if some enterprising faculty and students from the British Columbia Institute of Technology can help it.  Instructor Keith Turner and his classes have essentially found a fountain of youth for Vancouver’s cherry trees – a way to regenerate young trees from the older ones.

Students took cuttings from six of the rarest varieties of cherry trees on Vancouver streets.  In a combination of old science and new science, they were able to grow the cuttings in a special medium that returns the plants to a younger stage and allows them to root and grow anew.

So far, they’ve produced a tiny forest of 50 saplings this way, which are being cultivated in a campus greenhouse.  When the time comes, the young trees will be moved to the nursery at the University of British Columbia’s botanical garden.

One day soon, the engineered trees may be back on city streets.  The plan is to build up stock of the rarest varieties of cherry trees, replacing old timers as they age and keeping Vancouver’s blossoms in perpetual bloom.

What do you think of using regenerated saplings to keep Vancouver’s cherry trees blooming?  Let us know below.

For more updates on Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza 

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