The Tidal Basin looks strange right now. Some cherry trees have begun to flower, and there’s a stubborn pack of snow on the ground. For those of us who love cherry blossom season, this would seem like terrible news — but it turns out there’s no reason to panic.
We’ve had a week of back-to-back hard freezes in Washington, with the coldest morning occurring Wednesday when the temperature fell to 22 degrees. That was the hardest night on the blossoms, according to the National Park Service’s Michael Stachowicz, the guy in charge of tracking the trees. The second coldest morning occurred a day later, on Thursday, with a temperature of 24 degrees.
Though freezing temperatures are hard on flowers that have started to open, the cold doesn’t damage those that are in the young stages. In fact, Stachowicz said, even some of the trees that were in the near-peak stage, “puffy white,” made it through the freeze unharmed.
It’s great news for blossom watchers.
It has been a strange winter for the nation’s favorite cherry trees. February was extremely warm (warmest on record in Washington, actually) which pushed the trees out of hibernation and into flower-growing mode. But even though this process began early, by the second week of March, the trees were in a wide variety of stages.
And that’s the silver lining to this gray, wintry cloud. If all the trees were close to peak bloom, things would have been bad. But more than half the trees were in a younger, more winter-hardy stage, and many of the puffy white blossoms hung on for dear life successfully.
There’s no denying that the cold did widespread damage to the puffy white blossoms. Some of the flowers have browned, yes, but there are large pockets of trees at the Tidal Basin that are unharmed. Stachowicz and his colleagues are bringing clippings of the trees indoors to warm them up and force them to bloom, and they’re seeing good flowers come from trees they thought may have been damaged.
There’s been a lot of pessimistic news about the blossoms this year, but Stachowicz said there’s no reason to think the Tidal Basin isn’t going to have a beautiful bloom season.
“Our blooms are just so dense and lush and just overwhelming,” he said. “There might be some trees that don’t blossom at all, but I think that will be in the minority.”