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Cherry blossom peak bloom time will be ...

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011

It has been 99 years since the mayor of Tokyo donated 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, and every year since the public has asked the same question: When will the white-and-pink blossoms be in their brief but spectacular full bloom?

At a glitzy briefing at the Newseum on Thursday, National Park Service chief horticulturist Rob DeFeo stepped to a microphone before reporters and television cameras and offered his best educated guess: March 29 to April 3.

His announcement is closely watched by a tourist industry that reaps $150 million from the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which will run from March 26 through April 10. This year, the blossoms should come a tad earlier than their average peak date of April 4, said DeFeo, whose predictions have been accurate 16 of the past 19 years.

Last year, after the region's record-setting snowfalls, he blew the call when March was unusually warm.

Right now, he said, "the buds are swollen and taking up moisture. They're green."

Though it has been cold the past few days, DeFeo said, "a lot of people don't realize that a day like today, the sun is hitting that soil and it's warming up the soil. It doesn't have to necessarily be 70 degrees. When the soil gets warm and the soil is moist, and it's very moist right now, it's just three or four more weeks."

DeFeo noted that the blossoms will remain visible longer than the peak period, but he cautioned that it is hard to predict how long. In 2008, the blossoms bloomed for 18 days; last year it was 10 days.

DeFeo's prediction heralds a festival that will include an opening ceremony and family day events at the National Building Museum on March 26, the Cherry Blossom parade April 9 and performances at Sylvan stage throughout the fortnight. Those events will be free, but the popular Sakura Matsuri Japanese culture street festival on April 9 will charge an admission fee of $5 for the first time in 15 years, officials said.

Victor L. Hoskins, the District's deputy mayor for planning and economic development, praised the festival, saying that it has helped the city reap revenue during a tough economic period.

"Visitors, please stay in our nice hotels and dine in our fine restaurants and take advantage of our retail," Hoskins said with a chuckle.

Meanwhile, if devotees can't get enough of the trees, they can take one home.

Well, sort of.


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