Washington's cherry blossoms expected to peak April 3-8

National Park Service Chief Horticulturalist Rob Defeo predicts the blooming of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010

Sometime in April it will probably "snow" again -- not the snow that has tormented the Washington area for much of the winter, but the gentle falling of the cherry blossoms that is, perhaps, the most beautiful part of the city's annual tribute to spring.

Remember spring? Spring, the sweet spring, as the poets say, when frosts are slain and flowers begotten . . . ?

It leapt into the chilly air Thursday at the kick-off preview of the National Cherry Blossom Festival at the Newseum, where experts said the flowering of the pale blooms may be just four weeks away.

National Park Service horticulturalist Rob DeFeo said that despite the harsh winter and mountains of snow, Washington's famed cherry trees are likely to start their show about March 31 and continue until April 11. The peak blooming period should be between April 3 and April 8, not far off the average peak date of April 4.

DeFeo spoke at a news briefing attended by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), representatives of the Japanese Embassy and festival organizers. As DeFeo spoke of spring, a cold wind battered the two giant inflated cherry blossoms tethered to the sidewalk outside the museum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This year's festival, which marks Tokyo's gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington in 1912, is set for March 27 through April 11. The annual parade and Japanese street celebration -- the largest of its kind in the United States -- are scheduled for April 10.

The festival brings in about a million visitors a year and $184 million for Washington area businesses.

Although the region remains a battlefield of fallen evergreens, broken magnolias and maimed shrubs from heavy snows last month, the cherry trees escaped largely unscathed, DeFeo said. Of the 3,700 trees, only a handful succumbed to the weather, he said, and damage to others was minimal.

"A lot of the branches that fell, fell because they were weak or weakly attached," DeFeo said, and those trees were already hollow.

He said that Washington's cherry trees, mostly around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park, fared better than other trees partly because the Park Service prunes them to maintain structural strength. "You improve structure, you minimize this kind of damage," he said.

This year's blossoms will be visually affected by two building projects: at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where a tall construction fence has been erected amid the trees on the northwest rim of the Tidal Basin, and the Jefferson Memorial, where equipment to repair the sinking seawall on the south side of the basin is likely to mar views.

And, although thousands will probably throng the city to see the blossoms, DeFeo said, his favorite time is the "snow," when the blooming period is over and the petals fall, drifting over sidewalks and into the water.

"I like it the most," he said. "To me, that's the end of the festival. You're celebrating the end. Like life. They say it's short. . . . To me, that's the nicest time."

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