Every year in early spring, the nearly 1,700 cherry blossom trees ringing Washington DC’s Tidal Basin and surrounding area near the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial burst into bloom with their white and pink flowers. They’re joined by another 2,000 or so elsewhere around the National Mall.
Of the 3,770 cherry trees, the Yoshino variety are the most famous, but there are actually several different varieties of cherry blossoms in and near the National Mall. Kwanzan cherry trees are mostly in East Potomac Park that come into bloom about a fortnight later. Weeping Japanese Cherry trees (or Higan Cherry) get about a one week headstart on the Yoshinos. And there are also Uussuzumi Cherry, Sargent Cherry, and Snow Goose varieties.1
The annual event provides the occasion for Washington DC’s two-week National Cherry Blossom Festival, one of a number of cherry blossom festivals celebrated throughout the world where cherry blossoms bloom. The event brings bus loads of tourists into town (and about $150 million in tourist dollars) and makes for a spectacular kickoff to Washington’s tourist season.2
Over a century ago, Japan gave Washington 3,200 cherry blossom trees. The first batch died quickly, but Japan replaced them in 1912. A few dozen of the trees still survive from that original planting, gnarled and knotted and mostly clustered down towards the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.3
The whole phenomenon really is quite beautiful, although with the peak blooming only lasting a few days and varying slightly each year depending on the local weather conditions, timing is everything. The color of the blossoms changes from pink, when young, to puffy white, when mature. So if you prefer pink blooms, come at the beginning. If you prefer white blooms, come towards the end. And if you can’t stand crowds, good luck! The actual blooming only lasts a matter of days, but other events are planned around the city as part of the festival, including a Cherry Blossom Parade and fireworks.
When Will Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms Bloom in 2016?
If you’d like to know more, I now have a dedicated site for Washington DC’s cherry blossoms.
- Carissa DiMargio and Tracee Wilkins, “Peak Bloom Period Bumped Up,” NBC 4 Washington, 14 March 2012. ↩
- “Cherry Blossoms Peak Bloom Time Is . . . ,” Washington Post, 3 March 2011. ↩
- Steve Hendrix, “Washington’s Century-Old Cherry Trees: Wizened but Still Able to Bust a Bloom,” Washington Post, 11 March 2013. ↩