National Post story of Sakura Steve

Video: National Post interviews Sakura Steve about the lack of cherry blossoms in High Park this year and have posted an article with a 5 min video giving many the first chance to meet the man behind the Sakura in High Park website.

The idea of creating the video was first brought to me by National Post writer/columnist Joe O’Connor and after piquing my interest we picked May 13th as the day to go out and film with Graham Runciman (videographer). It was a perfect sunny spring afternoon in the park and both Joe and Graham did an excellent job in helping me feel comfortable in telling my story and share some of my thoughts into the lack of any cherry blossom this year. There is even a segment learning more about the Japanese tradition behind the sakura cherry blossoms from a representative of the Consulate General of Japan in Toronto.

[ Click here to read the article and watch the video ]

Overall I think they put together an excellent video and had a lot of fun that afternoon – thank you Joe and Graham!

Sakura Watch, May 11, 2016 – Gallery of a few blossoms in High Park that I shot on Monday evening. I’m currently super busy in putting together a work event and won’t have a chance to visit again until this Friday, however after receiving numerous questions I wanted to post this to let people know what to expect in the park.

You will see a few blossoms – but when I say few, I mean very, very few. Expect to see a small cluster on a branch with the rest of tree bare.

What is up with the buds?

The main observation that has truly become a head scratcher is what is happening to the remaining buds on the trees? You see currently it would seem like on average about 60-70% of the trees buds have gone straight to leaf, an extremely small percentage of 1% have created blossoms, but the rest seem completely stagnant with no signs of any changes or growth in the past few weeks. This is highly unusual based on what I’ve seen in years prior and don’t know what to expect until the next few visits to see what is happening.

Something about Magnolias

Another item I feel a need to clarify is these flowers you see below are not cherry blossoms – these are magnolias. These are beautiful flowers, at least 10-20x larger then the average cherry blossom, and come in a few different varieties but the most common are these with the upper white petals and darker deep pink bases.

Magnolia blossoms in bloom in a grand tree near the sakura cherry blossom grove in High Park May 9, 2016

Magnolia blossoms in bloom in a grand tree near the sakura cherry blossom grove in High Park May 9, 2016

Magnolias in bloom in High Park

Magnolias in bloom in High Park in 2016 – photos by Steven Joniak –

I see the media and others online posting photos and declaring ‘the first cherry blossoms are here!’ when in reality its not a cherry blossom at all. The only similarity they share is that they both tend to blossom at the same time. But nonetheless, still go out and enjoy them – just don’t call them cherry blossoms.

Watch for more updates to come this weekend.

Sakura Watch, May 7, 2016 – Only a few blossoms to be seen throughout the park this Mother’s Day weekend in Toronto. Those looking to come out and expecting to see trees filled with delicate white flowers will instead be greeted with a game of ‘where’s the blossom?’ as they wander around the park in hopes of spotting a sakura cherry blossom.

You will be able to see blossoms on the trees but they will be extremely sparse to the point where you would be able to easily count how many are the tree. Upon my latest visit I snapped a few photos showing what you can expect in just how low the numbers are. Leaf fans (the green-on-tree ones, not the hockey ones) will enjoy seeing the daily greening of the trees as well as all other areas of the park as consistent warmer weather seems to finally be settling in, but the timing is unfortunately too late for our beloved blossoms.

Of course we shouldn’t  forget that High Park is a wonderful place to visit on any occasion as there is always something to see and enjoy. From magnolias to water fowl to all types of plants and flowers coming to life everywhere you look, spring time is definitely one of the most vibrant times to enjoy the park. There is far too much ugliness in the world constantly being pushed into our view that sometimes we need to retreat to a place where the beauty of what we tend to take for granted is just waiting to be discovered.

I hope you all take time to enjoy this Mother’s Day weekend and forget about being upset about the lack of blossoms and instead enjoy the few we do have. Isn’t even seeing just one sakura cherry blossom better then seeing none at all?

Have a great weekend and more updates will follow next week.

Sakura Watch, May 8, 2015 – viewing the cherry blossom bloom at sunrise is a great way to beat the crowds and enjoy the trees under the warm colours of early morning sunlight.

After a couple of live interview segments with Jamie Gutfreund on the CP24 Breakfast show early this morning, I was able to take a few more photos as the sun was starting to rise over the High Park Trail and Hillside Gardens. Surprisingly, even at 7 in the morning, there were already a good number of people out! The usual joggers and boot camp groups were out but it was nice to see many more photographers and blossom enthusiasts of all ages had come out so early to take in the beautiful sights and smells of the peak bloom.

What’s truly unique of taking photos during sunrise, or even sunset, is what the photography terms as the ‘golden hour’ – this is the time where for roughly an hour during early morning and late afternoon when the sun casts golden warm colours which enhance skin tones and soften otherwise stark bright subjects with a softer, and more appealing light. The delicate white petals of the Sakura // Cherry blossoms capture these warmer colours in a way that brings out more of the pinks and deeper details that could seem otherwise washed out in full, bright sunlight.

Of course we can all agree the sakura //cherry blossoms look just downright beautiful in near any light but this takes that beauty to another level and offers one more way to enjoy the flowers before the fall away for another year.

Have a look through the special gallery I posted today that demonstrates the dramatic difference a little warm lighting, and getting up early out of bed, can make while visiting the Sakura in High Park.

Sakura Watch, May 24, 2014 – Akebono / Fugenzo trees are in peak bloom and offer blossom enthusiasts one more chance to enjoy this other variety of sakura flowers.

Recognized for the large palm-sized flower and round, fluffy shape, these blossoms are a sharp contrast to the more delicate 5 petal shaped cherry blossoms most of us know. Due to their size and weight they tend to be hanging and facing downward from the trees. Their colours can vary from a deep pink to bright white and all shade combinations in between.

These blossoms are now in peak bloom and should offer another week of enjoyment before falling off (unless of course we have any strong storms or heavy rains and wind).

Most of the trees can be seen in a small group of 3 trees at the bottom of the winding path near Grenadier Pond. The largest group of 8 trees are located a bit further down the path along the pond including one large tree just past the dock.

The trees can also be recognized by their copper & olive coloured leaves with end in a sharp point and have serrated edges. Their trunks are tall and straight instead of the more twisty branches seen in other yoshino sakura trees. Always the late bloomers, these tend to flower near the same time other trees are blooming throughout the park and walking around you can see many wonderful colours of various blooms in this park this weekend.

So take advantage of this first really gorgeous weekend of 2014 to take in the akebono / fugenzo trees and one last chance to catch another member of the sakura cherry blossom family. There are so many beautiful natural wonders throughout the park to take in, so please remember to respect the trees and wildlife during your visit. Have a great weekend!

Sakura Watch, May 21, 2014 – Blossoms are falling but others are beginning to open, namely the Akebono / Fugenzo sakura which are a different variety and produce a much larger, round and puffy bloom. These usually tend to bloom the week or two after the better known Yoshinio sakura have fallen.

There are only a few of these trees in the park – 3 are located at the bottom of the winding path near the yellow bush and another 5 trees are grouped together at the foot of Hillside Gardens with a commemorative plaque located in the ground between them. These sakura can be spotted due to their copper & green coloured leaves and large, puffy blossoms. I will be posting more of these photos and information in the days and weeks ahead.

As for the rest of the park and the remaining cherry blossoms that we all love to see, there are still a few spots to catch a glimpse of small numbers in the next few days. The best places to see some blossoms are along the winding ‘cherry tree lane’ path down to the pond, but even better are the trees lining the pond – they still have the largest amount of blossoms still left to see.

Then next best spot would be the trees by the playground and zoo as they also have a good percentage of trees still holding on to some blossoms. Here there are also a couple small trees that offer the opportunity for beautiful close-up photos as well – just be careful not to damage these as you can see most of the other smaller trees are heavily damaged and broken. We need to ensure the healthy young trees can survive another year to one day catch up to their bigger siblings!

So if you still wanted to see a few blossoms then don’t hesitate. The longer the rain and storms stay way, the longer the chance you have to catch them one last time before they’re gone!

Sakura Watch, May 16, 2014 – After rain fewer blossoms left to see for the long weekend throughout the park. There was less than normal volume of blossoms this year during peak bloom that only started just a few days ago and the heavy rains yesterday have knocked down many more of the bloom. This long weekend will be the last chance to see the blooms before more rains are expected on Monday/Tuesday. Here is a breakdown of the cherry blossom bloom left to view:

Best volume of cherry blossoms to view:

Tress around along the short path between the playground and zoo are currently the fullest blossom trees in the park this year. Extra bonus is there are two trees along the end of the path that have almost no leaves (see the photo above in the gallery) and is the closest to what we would usually expect to see throughout the rest of the trees in a good year.

Good volume of cherry blossoms to view:

There are a number of trees that are still good to view the remaining blossoms by Hillside Gardens. The trees have nice groups of flowers here and there and also the small trees allow you to get nice and close. The trees that line along Grenadier Pond are especially good in blossom volume including my favourite pair of sakura between the willows overlooking the pond.

Few to little volume of cherry blossoms to view:

There are very little flowers to view in the trees by the sports fields. You can spot a few nice blossoms to shoot in these trees and there are even some good low branches for close-ups.

I wish everyone a fun filled long weekend and hope if you do visit the park that is an enjoyable visit!

Sakura Watch, May 13, 2014 – Peak bloom throughout the park, but less blossoms overall as compared to previous years. The cherry blossoms have opened to over 90-95% per tree and there are only very few buds that remain to open.

However viewers will note that the look of the trees are much less dramatic and impactful as previous years and will see many more leaves on the trees. The winter of 2014 was one of our longest and harshest in many years and this is the toll it has taken on our fragile sakura // cherry blossoms.

This only reinforces how much we should be thankful for the blossoms that did survive as seeing some is still far better then none at all. Here is a breakdown of how the trees look throughout the park:

Near the sports fields / Bloor St main entrance

95% blossoms have bloomed but 60-70% of each tree is showing leaves

These trees are showing the lowest amount of overall blossoms. Blooms look more like scattered snow flakes on the trees, though the two trees by the parking area are the best to see in this area. The upside is many branches are very low and make for easy close-up photo opportunities (just remember to not break or shake the trees).

Trees on either side of road towards the hill

95% blossoms have bloomed but 60-70% of each tree is showing leaves

These trees are also showing very low amount of overall blossoms. These can be seen in pairs and small groups along the road, deeper in the fields and a large single tree on the hill to the left of the road.

Trees along High Park Trail and near Grenadier Pond

90% blossoms have bloomed but 40-50% of each tree is showing leaves

These trees are showing a good amount of blossoms throughout the largest group of trees on the hill and lining Grenadier Pond. The impact overall is less dramatic this year, but there is still a good number to enjoy for as long as they last.

Trees between playground and zoo

95% blossoms have bloomed but 40-50% of each tree is showing leaves

These trees are also showing a good amount of blossoms. The group overall tends to attract smaller crowds then near Grenadier Pond and can be just as enjoyable and beautiful to visit.


How long will the bloom last?

Now that the trees are in peak bloom, the weather is the biggest factor in seeing how long we can keep the enjoying the sakura cherry blossoms before they begin to fall. You may still be able to enjoy the blooms over the long weekend as long as we don’t have any strong winds or rain storms to knock off the blooms this week. As always, I will post more updates throughout the week for the long weekend to help ensure everyone has a chance to visit the sakura this year – stay tuned!

Sakura Watch, May 9, 2014 – Blossoms have begun to open! The long wait for the Sakura // Cherry Blossoms to begin opening has finally happened today in High Park.

Today we see only a handful of open blossoms scattered throughout the park. Currently the best place to see a group of blooms are on the trees that line the right side of the road as you walk/drive towards the trees on the big hill and winding path.

Here is a quick break down of what to see where:

Near the sports fields / Bloor St main entrance – 1% bloom, 50-60% leaves

  • Only a scattered few blooms are open in this area, especially the trees closest to the road.
  • The disappointing side is many tress in this area are showing much more leaves then blossoms opening up. This is a result of the bad winter and we can expect to see scattered blossoms on these trees over the next week.
  • Also, Be warned there are many pests in this area right now as you can see dozens of holes in the ground – I think are yellow jacket wasps so be careful with pets to kids especially in this spot!

Trees on either side of road towards the hill – 2% bloom, 35-40% leaves

  • These are the best spots to see the early openers right now. These trees are only in small groups of 2-3 with some close to the road, others deeper in the woods.
  • One large Sakura is prominent atop a hill of the left side of the road. Most of these trees also show signs of leaf growth instead of blossoms.

Trees along High Park Trail and near Grenadier Pond – 1% bloom, 30-35% leaves

  • Many buds are also still in earlier stages with some of their pink petals starting to show and may take a few more days to open up.
  • Most of the other trees are also showing signs of leaves opening.

Trees between playground and zoo – 1% bloom, 50-60% leaves

  • Only blossom visible are on the trunk of one tree.
  • Many buds are showing big bulbs of pink and white.
  • Many buds have turned to leaves in the trees in this area.

Why so many leaves instead of blossoms this year?

The loss of many blossoms this year is due to the severe cold & prolonged winter which prevented many of the blossom buds to develop and instead promote going straight to leaves instead.

So visitors to the park this weekend will finally have their first glimpse of the sakura – cherry blossoms for Mother’s Day. Their may only be a few to see but the sight will be a welcome one for us all.

Just remember to respect the trees and don’t break or climb them! 

Please respect the Sakura // Cherry Blossoms.

Please respect the Sakura // Cherry Blossoms.

Sakura Watch, May 7, 2014 – Blossoms are now days away from opening as we can now see the bright pink petals beginning to poke through, but still closed tight. Warmer temperatures this weekend will finally help the first blossoms to begin to open and the 2014 Sakura // Cherry Blossom festival can officially begin!

Currently there are a handful of blossoms that I have observed that are just waiting for the right amount of warmth and sun to signal its time to open and share their beauty onto the world. I had hoped it would be start by today because in previous years when a bud became advanced, elongated and shown its pink petal tips, it had then bloomed within 1-2 days. This year, the cool weather keeps continuing to s-l-0-w d-0-w-n the entire process and doubling the time.

Sakura blossoms thrive in consistent warmer high teens and twenties temperatures which the forecast is calling for this weekend. So lets all keep hoping mother nature can co-operate and help things along for this weekend!

As well, I’m now doing daily checks to spot that first blossom – can you guess where the first blossom will bloom? So please continue to hold on to hope and pray with your patience as the day of the bloom finally gets so much nearer. We have had an incredibly trying winter and now its our time to take in the beautiful sights of spring that have long been delayed and sure to be a welcomed by all Torontonians.