Have You Ever Seen the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC?

On a too-rare day I played hookey recently.

Japanese cherry trees (Sakura), a gift from Ja...

Japanese cherry trees adorn the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The Washington Monument is visible in the distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sky was a faultless blue.

The air, at 70 degrees, was slightly breezy, with no sign of the coming summer’s humidity.

A Monday, traffic was light, incremented only by the tourists who planned their trips ahead of the scheduled festival.

And, the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC were at their peak.

When Is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC?

More than a million people come to visit Washington, DC every year to see the cherry blossoms.

The U.S. National Park Service estimates when their peak will be every year, about 10 days before they bloom.

Peak bloom is when 70% of the Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin are blooming.

The peak bloom period this year was March 20-23, 2012.

The opening ceremony for the Cherry Blossom Festival was yesterday, March 25, 2012, 100 years, almost to the day, when First Lady Helen Taft and the Japanese Ambassador’s wife, Viscountess Chinda, planted two cherry trees on the bank of the Tidal Basin.

Where Did the Cherry Trees Come from?

That March 27, 1912 ceremony was the beginning of the planting of the 3,000 cherry trees the government of Japan gave the city of Washington, DC.

In 1915, the U.S. government returned the favor with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.

In 1965, First Lady, Ladybird Johnson, accepted another gift of 3,800 cherry trees from Japan.

In 1981, U.S. horticulturists gave Japan cuttings from the cherry trees to replace some they had lost to flooding.

Is It Hard to Predict When the Cherry Trees Will Bloom?

The two-week Cherry Blossom Festival starts the last Saturday in March, with a parade on the last Saturday of the festival.

The cherry trees bloom for about two weeks (from 10 to 17 days), but predicting which two weeks is tricky.

Warm days can accelerate their schedule. Storms can blow the blooms off the trees.

In the last twenty years, they have bloomed at their peak as early as March 17 (2000) and as late as April 11 (1993).

What Kind of Cherry Trees Are They?

The trees around the Tidal Basin are largely the early-blooming, nearly white Yoshino trees, in an area called West Potomac Park. 

In addition to the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial, West Potomac Park includes the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the FDR and MLK memorials, and the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial. It sits right beside the Washington Monument.

In addition to Yoshinos lining the road to Haines Point, within walking distance of the Tidal Basin, in East Potomac Park, are parallel rows of Kwanzan cherry trees.

Their light pink double blossoms come out two weeks later than the Yoshino.

So, if you missed the Yoshinos around the Tidal Basin, don’t miss the drive out to Haines Point for the pink blossoms to come.

Or watch the cherry trees glow on a cloudy or rainy day.

Or stand in wonder as the petals float down in live, pale pink velvet confetti to make a magical forest.

Are there seasonal events in your city that you remember from childhood?

Have you taken your grandchildren to an event marking the beginning of Spring?

Is your city known for massed flowers, like azaleas or daffodils or tulips?

To you and celebrating Spring with your grandchildren.

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Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Click here to order my book, an affectionate and candid series of essays where mothers and grandmothers give each other advice about parenting and grandparenting, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers.”