Correction to This Article
A graphic with a March 10 Metro article showed incorrect dates for the Cherry Blossom Festival and the peak bloom forecast. The festival will run from March 25 through April 9. Peak blooms are forecast for March 27 through April 1. Also, a photo caption with the article was incorrect. The drummers pictured were playing at a news conference March 9, not in December.

Breathless Over the Blooms

Drummers from Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko USA of Silver Spring play at a December news conference heralding festival events.
Drummers from Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko USA of Silver Spring play at a December news conference heralding festival events. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2006

It never fails. Every year, right after the chief horticulturist for the National Park Service studies the bare branches of Washington's famed cherry trees and issues his prediction of the days when they will be at peak bloom, he's hounded by the folks who take him aside.

These people, some of whom have millions of dollars at stake on the timing of one of the nation's biggest annual attractions, elbow Robert DeFeo a bit and ask -- under their breaths and out of the corner of their mouths -- for the real peak date. "Come on, gimme the exact date," they beg him.

So yesterday, DeFeo promised to tell the hoards of people gathered to hear this year's prediction "exactly when" the thousands of cherry trees that Japan gave to Washington in 1912 and 1965 will reach the glorious, snowy-white and pink peak that will draw about 1 million people to the nation's capital.

The hoteliers and restaurateurs and cherry blossom princess coordinators and parade officials waited, at the edge of their seats, for this new information.

DeFeo cleared his throat and straightened his vaguely floral-patterned tie and began to explain a complex equation of coefficients and regressions. "If Y is the actual bloom date," he said, then "Y = .37X + 34.11" and the exact peak will be . . . "March 30 at 10:46 a.m.!"

The room was silent, stunned by the pinpoint precision of this new information.

Only DeFeo laughed.

It was a horticulturalist's practical joke, making light of the fact that no science gives humans enough insight into the heat waves, cold snaps and wind gusts that have thwarted the careful planning of the Cherry Blossom Festival in the past.

"Seriously, right smack in the middle of the festival," DeFeo said. The way the trees look and this year's mild winter led him to predict that the pink bloom will peak between March 27 and April 1.

The people in the room sighed, then cheered.

This year's festival runs from March 25 to April 9 and is blossoming with events new and old. It will include the annual parade, with blossom princesses, marching bands and floats and "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak as grand marshal, supported by "American Idol" finalist Anthony Fedorov and Grammy-nominated singer Martha Wash.

There will be an addition to the Sakura Matsuri Japanese street festival, where traditional Japanese arts, crafts, music and cuisine are usually celebrated. A higher-octane, Tokyo-centric Japan more familiar to most 13-year-olds will be featured with a new pavilion -- "J-Pop Land." It's a tribute to anime, the popular Japanese animation; manga, Japanese comic books; and DDR, or Dance Dance Revolution, video games that are played with full-body dancing and are the rage among the preteen set.

Anacostia will host a festival celebrating the planting of more cherry trees east of the river, and the National Building Museum will erect an origami city. The District's Department of Transportation will offer valet service for bicycles to encourage cyclists worried about bike parking.

Restaurants across town will serve cherry blossom sushi rolls, port wine and cherry braised short ribs, sake-marinated duck breast with sour-cherry barbecue sauce and even a chocolate-covered cherry martini, among other creations that derive from the fruit-bearing cousins of the beloved Yoshino trees that encircle the Tidal Basin.

There are dozens of performances, activities and exhibits during these two weeks in Washington. A schedule of the events can be found at .

But aside from the celebrities and sushi demonstrations and fun runs and golf tournaments that the festival office coordinates, one question dominates each and every day, said Diana Mayhew, executive director of the festival organization.

It's all about the blossom date.

The calls are already coming in: from tour groups in California, schoolchildren in Michigan, retirees in Florida. And a "call from Italy from someone's sister who said the trees were blooming," Mayhew said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company