Washington, DC’s National Cherry Blossom Festival has got off to a slow start this year, with the peak bloom date put back twice due to the cold weather. But earlier this week the National Park Service announced the blossoms are now in stage three of six and should reach their zenith by 8th–12th April. The annual festival marks the gift of Yoshino Cherry trees from Japan with a month-long calendar of events, culminating in a major parade on the final Saturday.
There are some 3,000 cherry trees around the tidal basin and every year before the festival begins, National Park Service horticulturalists monitor the six stages of bud development to predict the peak blooming period, defined as the time when 70% of the blossoms are open. These are staged as: green buds, florets visible, extension of florets, peduncle elongation, puffy white and peak bloom, with the trees remaining at their best for around 14 days once they hit their peak.
The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived in 1910, a gift to First Lady Helen Herron Taft from Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador. The trees were diseased however, replaced by another batch in 1912, and these are the trees that burst into a sea of pink each spring for more than a million visitors to enjoy.
A further gift of trees was accepted by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in 1965, and in 1981 some cuttings from these same trees were given back to Japanese horticulturalists to replace some cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed by flooding.
Cherry blossom season is always one of the best times to visit Washington, DC, but this year promises to be extra special with a jam-packed schedule of cultural events, parades, concerts and children’s activities.
Highlights include the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade; a giant spectacle of marching bands, elaborate floats, giant helium-filled balloons and street performers, and the family-friendly Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival which features traditional performances and martial arts demonstrations, and is the nation’s largest one-day celebration of Japanese culture. Another annual favourite is the Blossom Kite Festival which includes demonstrations and kite-making for kids, before the ‘Hot Tricks Showdown’ where master kite fliers manouevre their sport kites into dazzling configurations during 30 seconds of music.
Music fans can enjoy the Japanese Jazz Series, a series of performances at the city’s oldest jazz supper club Blues Alley, and the inaugural Petalpalooza festival at DC’s new waterfront destination The Wharf, with three outdoor stages for live music plus a roller rink, a beer garden and a fireworks display. Film buffs are catered for too, with a Film Series and other one-off screenings.