Vancouver’s Urban Forest

Vancouver's Urban Forest
Vancouver’s Urban Forest

Vancouver’s Urban Forest: Each spring, as memories of winter’s drizzle fade, visitors to Vancouver, BC, are enchanted by one of the season’s most magical sights: 43,000 cherry trees in bloom. With a backdrop of ocean and mountains, pink and white flowers are the stars of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (VCBF). The three-week festival attracts visitors from dozens of countries around the world; All of whom hope to make a dazzling Instagram story or gorgeous picture.

What most people don’t realize is that the “perfect shot” is the culmination of a city-wide urban forest strategy. And the path that brings a fan to their new favorite tree is carefully planned; From selecting and planting trees, to volunteer cherry scouts, which bloom as they bloom.

“We are the bridge between the festival-goers and the trees,” cherry scout, Shirley Willard, told me on a gray drizzle on a January day, after scouts had previously reported on Whitcomb cherry blossoms. Willard has been a cherry scout for the VCBF for four years. She says her role, which began with learning the difference between a plum and a cherry tree and expanded to recognize the 54 different cherry varieties that grow in the city, mostly involves walking. Vancouver’s Urban Forest

Willard’s enthusiasm is infectious and she described how the bloom—grouping, tree shape, and even bark color—helped scouts to know whether they were looking for Vancouver’s more common Akebono trees or the locally rare ones. Looking at Choshu-Hizakura. And while your average bloom fan may not really care if a tree is shiatsu or Shiro-fugen (experts tell me it comes down to the subtle variations in bloom size and foliage color) it turns out that Vancouverites are charmingly fanatical about their wilderness.

Almost every city-dweller I spoke to, from a particular dogwood to Grandfather Cherry, has a favorite tree. And not just one tree species; Most can limit this to street location and tree varietals. As for Willard, her favorite is surprisingly not a cherry, but a sumptuous Caucasian wingnut at the corner of Comox and Chilco Streets in Vancouver’s West End. “It has a great name, a pretty shape, and tall varieties of yellow flowers in summer,” Willard said. “It just has a good energy.”

This good energy is only one aspect of what people moving to Vancouver’s urban wilderness are doing with their planting strategy. According to Bill, Urban Forestry Superintendent Bill of the Vancouver Park Board, urban forests play a large role in the health of the city. In practice, they clean the air, combat climate change, act as wind brakes, reduce stormwater treatment costs, increase biodiversity and the negative effects of the heat-island effect. Trees also make a space more livable—their shade makes the city more comfortable while their flowers add beauty.

At the turn of the 19th century, most of Vancouver’s old development was cleared of forest. Trees established after logging generally included large coniferous species including Douglas-fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock and deciduous species including red alder, bigleaf maple, black cottonwood, and bitter cherry. Over time other trees were added to the mix. The gift of 500 cherry trees in the 1930s by the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama, Japan, helped expand the forest from 40 native species to more than 500 different types of trees. Vancouver’s Urban Forest

While it’s easy to grow a variety of trees in city parks, Stephen says it’s more difficult to establish trees and keep them healthy on streets; Where there is often a lot of traffic. The trick has been to experiment. Some attempts have turned out to be mistaken; Like the 12,000 or so lindens planted in the city. Lindens, it was discovered, attract aphids, and the aphids secrete enormous amounts of a sticky liquid called “honeydew,” which then covers sidewalks, car windshields and shoes, and blew into homes. The city tried to fix the gooey problem by releasing ladybugs, which eat aphids, but ladybug suppliers are few and far between.

While lindens were a miss with urban residents, the city’s ambitious effort to save and increase its urban forest by planting 150,000 trees over ten years has been a hit. Even any kind of vandalism or illegal felling of trees sparks outrage and often becomes news. Vancouver’s Urban Forest

The city’s favorite umbrella is apparently more than just social media fodder. It provides cheerful spring flowers, cool leafy streets in summer, brilliant autumn colors, and finally gives us winter light by dropping leaves. Stephen, whose favorite tree is the Yoshino cherry in Queen Elizabeth Park’s mine, explains that trees contribute to our emotional health, too—and there’s something beautiful about that.

Vancouver’s Urban Forest

The Best Blossoms:

West 22nd Avenue

Along with eight consecutive city blocks from Arbutus Street to Carnavon Street on West 22nd Avenue, you’ll find groups of people capturing the sunset as it lights up the flowers.

Burrard Station (SkyTrain)

This blossom-filled square where they launch the VCBF with Cherry Jam concert (afternoon, April 4) is also gorgeous.

Vanier Park

Blossoms with a mountain and ocean backdrop combine for the perfect Vancouver shot at Vanier Park – home of the planetarium and the Vancouver Museum.

Towering Trees:

Stanley Park

A Douglas fir in Stanley Park that is at least 600 years old is believed to be the oldest tree in the city. One of the park’s treasures you’ll find is next to the Lees Trail, northeast of the intersection of the Bridle and Cathedral Trails and covered rest areas.

Queen Elizabeth Park

Home of Stephen’s Yoshino Cherry, Queen Elizabeth Park also has some stunning examples of nature’s giants. There are large Douglas firs in the woods on the North Slope, some large-leafed maples, and a majestic stand of dark cottonwood growing along Ontario Street.

Fabulous Fall Colour:


With towering leafy trees, the shady streets of Kitsilano make it one of the best neighborhoods in Vancouver to capture the glorious autumn colors.


The university’s laneways and parklands are a popular place to see the green as it turns to gold, ocher, and red.

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