What a difference a day makes. The photo on the left was taken Saturday morning and the photo on the right was taken Sunday afternoon. The hard freeze over the weekend turned the blossoms brown in one day. (Kevin Ambrose)

Oh, magnolias — we hardly knew ye. Unfortunately, the weekend’s hard freeze transformed the colorful, fragrant flowers into a brown, wilted mess. We’ll wait for your return next year!

Magnolia buds and blossoms are extremely sensitive to subfreezing temperatures. Unlike cherry blossoms, which are resilient to temperatures dipping into the upper teens and 20s, magnolia blossoms freeze quite easily when the temperature drops below 32.

The two hard freezes that we experienced on Friday and Saturday night put a quick end to the magnolia bloom throughout the area. The beautiful pink and white flowers wilted and turned brown in less than a day.


Blossom close-ups from Saturday morning (left) and Sunday afternoon (right) showing the result of a hard freeze. (Kevin Ambrose)

This year, the bloom of the magnolia trees began in late February, after many days of unseasonably warm winter weather. And many of the area magnolia trees were just approaching full bloom when the hard freeze killed the buds and blossoms.

The hard freeze was widespread across the region, with temperatures falling into the low 20s in D.C. and into the teens in the colder suburbs on Saturday night. The blossoms didn’t have a chance.

We may get a few scattered magnolia blossoms on the trees later this season, but we’ll have to wait for next year to see a beautiful magnolia bloom return.


Saturday morning (top) and Sunday afternoon (bottom) at Constitution Gardens. (Kevin Ambrose)

I made the trip to Washington early Saturday morning to photograph the magnolia trees at Constitution Gardens knowing that it would be my last chance of the season to see magnolia blossoms. I also wanted to check on the cherry buds at the Tidal Basin.

The temperature at Reagan National Airport dipped to 26 degrees Friday night, and I had a very brisk shoot in the early hours of Saturday. A stiff breeze added a wind chill, and the morning felt very winterlike.

As I photographed the blossoms, I could tell that they were already frozen. Traces of brown had already become visible at the tips of their petals. They wilt fast! The cherry buds seemed fine, however. Stay tuned for the cherry blossom report later this week.


Before and after the freeze at Constitution Gardens. The top photo is from Saturday morning and the bottom photo is from Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

I returned to D.C. a day later, on Sunday afternoon, to check out the damage to the magnolia blossoms. As I feared, it was extreme. All of the magnolia blossoms on the Mall were completely brown and wilted.

The garden behind the Smithsonian Castle was hit particularly hard. The numerous trees that filled the garden with beautiful shades of pink last week now displayed thousands of brown, wilted blossoms. There was not much color in the garden on Sunday.

At the Smithsonian, I watched numerous tourists photographing the brown blossoms. The wilted blossoms were an item of curiosity, not of beauty, and I could tell from the tourists’ conversations that many weren’t really sure what they were photographing, or what had happened.

We’ll now look forward to the cherry blossom bloom in about 10 to 15 days. Let’s hope the weather warms up by then.


Wilted magnolia blossoms at the Smithsonian Castle on Feb. 25 (top) and March 5 (bottom). (Kevin Wolf/Kevin Ambrose)

 


Beautiful magnolia blossoms early Saturday morning before the freeze damage. (Kevin Ambrose)

Brown, wilted blossoms at the Smithsonian Castle on Sunday after the hard freeze. (Kevin Ambrose)

Freeze damage to magnolia blossoms in Warrenton, Va. (Steve Pittman)