Although we have been seeing closures around the city this month, nature waits for no one. Our famed Cherry Blossom trees are ahead of schedule and expected to reach their Peak Bloom by the 21st of March! All across America, people turn to the groundhog to learn when spring will arrive. Regardless of what the groundhog or calendar says, it doesn’t feel like springtime in the nation’s capital until the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Every March and April, the skyline and streets of DC are dressed in pink and white. Perhaps you too observe the coming of spring by following the flowers. If so, join the pink party that is the cherry blossom bloom tours!
Below is a guide to this year’s fun but be sure to check back as events and schedules are subject to change.
HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
The presence of cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital dates back more than one hundred years. No, the pretty pink petals are not native to our swamp. A majority of the cherry blossoms that dot Washington’s waterfront originated oceans away in Japan, where they were first spotted by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore during a trip in 1885.
An influential 19th-century photographer and writer, as well as the first woman to join the National Geographic Society, Scidmore spent the next 24 years imploring the government to purchase cherry blossoms and plant them along the Tidal Basin.
First Lady Helen Taft began summoning a federal budget for the blossoms in 1909, but after hearing about the interest in his country’s national flower, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo organized a shipment of more than 2,000 cherry blossom trees for free.
Just as France famously presented New York City with the Statue of Liberty in 1886, Japan saw this gift as an everlasting symbol of the blossoming friendship between them and the United States. The gift came full circle in 1981 when the United States returned several trees to Japan after a typhoon caused severe flooding and destroyed thousands of native trees.
Disaster actually struck the District’s first cherry blossom trees, too. The Department of Agriculture discovered an infestation of insects in the original 1910 gift of cherry blossoms. So, President Taft ordered all the trees burned and Japan replaced these with a larger gift of 3,020 trees two years later.
The First Lady and Viscountess Chinda, the Japanese ambassador’s wife, planted the first cherry blossom together on March 26, 1912. A group of DC students recreated the initial planting on its 15th anniversary in 1927. Eight years after that, local civics group leaders expanded the tradition into the first-ever National Cherry Blossom Festival.
THE 2020 NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
Initially a one-week festival, organizers expanded the National Cherry Blossom Festival to four weeks in 1995. This expansion proved fruitful for attendees because increasingly volatile weather patterns have made predicting peak bloom difficult. The National Park Service defines peak bloom as the period during which 70% of the Yoshino flowers are open. Obviously, this is the best time for photo opportunities.
Within a period as short as four days or as long as two weeks, flowers will lose their pink and white petals giving way to green leaves. With a longer festival, there exists a greater chance of seeing the cherry blossoms in all their pink glory.
What date peak bloom is reached and how long it lasts depends on weather conditions. Early spring weather can cause the pink petals to pop open prematurely, while extended winter weather will wane the wonders of the flowers. The flowers peeked out as early as March 15 in 1990 and kept watchers at bay until April 18 in 1958. Once the flowers bloom, calm and cool temperatures are preferable for a prolonged visit. Frost or rain and wind can bring floral fun to a quick end. This year, the National Park Service predicts a peak bloom around March 21 – March 24.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival will kick off this year on April 1st and will run through April 12th. Packed in between those dates are more than 150 official and unofficial events. Below are some crowd favorites.