British Columbia·Photos

BCIT cherry tree sale is an effort to revive rare varieties

A 6-year-long program at the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology to save rare varieties of Japanese flowering cherry trees is winding down on Friday with a plant sale.

The seedlings are the result of a 6-year UBC/BCIT program to save varieties at risk of disappearing

BCIT instructor Keith Turner waters cherry tree seedlings as he prepares to sell them to the public. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's a plant sale that has been in the works for six years.

A program to save a few rare varieties of cherry trees — put on by the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology— is culminating on Friday, as more than 300 seedlings are made available to the public.

"The one thing about these trees, is you won't get these types of trees anywhere else," said BCIT instructor Keith Turner.

Vancouver is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms which explode into bloom each spring, and many of those trees originally came as a gift from Japan after the First World War, according to Turner.

Each spring, many of Vancouver's streets come to life as cherry trees burst into bloom. Many of the varieties originally came to the city as a gift from Japan after the First World War. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Dozens of different varieties were included in the donation, which was meant as a memorial for Japanese soldiers who fought in the war. Some have flourished over the years, but other varieties have begun to disappear. 

"If we lost them, they would definitely be gone forever, because we can't import any more cherry trees from Japan, because of virus quarantine issues," said Turner.

Turner and his students in a biotechnology honours program at both UBC and BCIT have been working to collect some of the rarest varieties and reproduce them in test tubes in a process that takes two years before the little clones can be planted.

BCIT instructor Keith Turner holds two cherry tree clones inside test tubes that are at least 100 years old, though it's only taken about two years of lab work to get them to their current state. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The hundreds of 12" - 20" seedlings look young, but since they're clones, they're actually about 100 years old. Some of the clones can be traced back to trees in Japan that are now more than 400 years old, according to Turner.

The program has grown a couple of other varieties, but there will be four on sale at the BCIT campus on Friday.

"The four that we have are Ojochin, Ito-kukuri, Fudan Zakura, and another one called 'Pink Perfection,'" said Turner. "I'm not sure these trees actually produce cherries."

But they are expected to produce beautiful blossoms once they grow a little more.

BCIT instructor Keith Turner says this is the last of the cherry trees his program will produce to sell: "once they're gone, they're gone." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Turner said there's a degree of responsibility that comes with the purchase of the $20 seedlings — they can't be taken outside Metro Vancouver due to virus concerns, and buyers will be asked to fill out some paper work so Turner knows where they'll be planted. He's also hoping people report back to him in the next year or two to let him know how the trees are doing.

As for the program, it's come to an end.

"This will be the last of it. I'm not going to be propagating any more cherry trees for sale. This is just a one-shot deal and once they're gone, they're gone," said Turner.

"It's been fun, but we've got to move on. We've got other things to do."

More than 300 seedlings, grown from rare Japanese flowering cherry trees, will be sold to the public on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The sale runs at the BCIT Burnaby Campus (east of the SE16 building) on Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. PT, or until all the trees are sold.