Peak bloom comes early to Washington's famed cherry trees

National Cherry Blossom Festival returns as event marks capital's pandemic comeback

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is returning with all its pageantry, as it marks Washington’s unofficial re-emergence from two years of pandemic limits and closures.

“This year, more than ever, you really understand why the festival is so important,” said festival president Diana Mayhew.

“We recognise that it’s more than just a festival. It’s about spring and renewal and a sense of new beginnings.”

This year’s cherry blossom trees will reach peak bloom between March 22 and 25, National Park Service estimates show.

The Washington Post reported that following unusually warm weather since mid-February, this year's peak bloom is coming 10 days earlier than the 30-year average of March 31.

The festival kicked off with a March 20 opening ceremony and will run until April 17.

The weather isn’t exactly co-operating this weekend, with freezing rain expected, but that shouldn’t hurt, Mike Litterst, Park Service spokesman for the National Mall, told AP.

Temperatures below minus 2°C can damage the blooms — something that happened in 2017, when a late frost killed about half the blossoms.

Trees in some Washington neighbourhoods have begun to blossom but not around the Tidal Basin — the main focus for tourists and photographers.

“They’re still tightly in their buds,” said Mr Litterst. “The armour of the buds is protecting the blossoms. Another week or so down the road, if this were to happen, we’d have some major concerns. I think we’ll be OK this time.”

During a recent even announcing this year’s plans, Mayor Muriel Bowser said: “We want DC to be the face of spring for the nation. Let me say, without equivocation, that DC is open!”

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the original 1912 gift of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo. Japan’s government remains heavily involved in the festival and regularly replaces about 90 trees per year.

A similar event two years ago was dominated by questions about whether the festival would happen at all in the face of the steadily advancing cases of Covid-19.

Sure enough, within days, Ms Bowser declared a public health emergency and banned all mass gatherings. Festival organisers spent the month frantically coming up with safe, long-distance ways for residents and visitors to enjoy the annual rite of spring, including a live “Bloom Cam” and virtual video tours.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Updated: March 22, 2022, 6:54 PM