Washington’s cherry blossoms bloom as tourists flock to US capital

Trees have become an annual phenomenon but face threats from climate change

Washington's cherry blossoms bloom as tourists flock to capital

Washington's cherry blossoms bloom as tourists flock to capital
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Washington's cherry blossoms began to bloom this week, with crowds of tourists, nature lovers and photographers scrambling to the city’s Tidal Basin for a view of the trees’ famed pink flowers.

“They are among Washington’s greatest springtime traditions,” Mike Litterst, of the National Park Service, told The National.

“Cherry trees with the backdrop of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument — you’d be hard-pressed to beat that.”

The trees have not quite reached peak bloom, which is when more than 70 per cent of the Yoshino varieties have blossoms. Peak bloom is likely to occur over the weekend, but stormy weather in the forecast may dampen some of the splendour and blow petals from the trees.

Visitors travelled from near and far to marvel at the flowers, posing for photos and snapping close-up images for social media.

“Came up about 20 miles [32 kilometres],” said Mark Murphy, a recently retired Virginia resident.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to carve out the time to come down here and really enjoy a local treasure.”

“We’re actually from Trinidad and Tobago,” said sisters Taherra and Ramona Tim Kee.

“It’s not something we would have experienced growing up in such a tropical island. We love it.”

But the trees, which were given to the city as a gift from Tokyo more than a century ago, face some challenges due to climate change.

Similar to last year, peak bloom will come earlier, compared to the 30-year average of March 31, due to unusually warm weather.

“The earlier that peak bloom occurs, the more likely it is that there is a frost that could occur when the petals are coming out,” said Mr Litterst.

“That’s a critical time for the petals.”

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

Mr Litterst also points to sea-level rise as a potential problem for the trees in the Tidal Basin.

He says the water level there has risen by about 0.3 metres since the trees were planted.

“This has caused a lot of the trees to have their roots flooded during high tide.”

The National Park Service is now taking steps to repair and heighten seawalls to better protect the trees.

There is cause to act fast, as more than one million visitors come to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Washington every year.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: March 23, 2023, 2:54 PM