U.S.

Early blooms in DC as National Cherry Blossom Festival begins

The blooms usually last several days depending on weather conditions. Cool weather can extend them, but rain or wind can bring a quick end.

Early blooms in DC as National Cherry Blossom Festival begins
A visitor takes a photo along the Tidal Basin amid cherry blossoms.
Mark Schiefelbein / AP
SMS

The famous pink and white blooms on Washington's cherry trees are on full display. The National Park Service trumpeted the trees' "peak bloom" Sunday, about two weeks earlier than normal — so early, in fact, that they arrived before the official start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which begins Wednesday.

Diana Mayhew, the president and CEO of the festival, said "It really added another weekend of people coming to the festival."

The National Park Service defines peak bloom as when 70% of the Yoshino cherry trees that line the Mall and Tidal Basin are flowering. A warm winter sped up this year's bloom cycle.

The blooms usually last several days depending on weather conditions. Cool weather can extend them, but rain or wind can bring a quick end.

No matter the weather, the National Cherry Blossom Festival goes on, drawing more than a million visitors per year.

Mayhew said, "About 45% of those are visitors. It's usually 45% to 50% of visitors outside the Maryland, Virginia, D.C. area."

When the festival ends on April 14, the Park Service will remove more than a hundred cherry trees to allow repair work on the Tidal Basin's deteriorating seawalls.

Some of the trees fall victim to the flooding that happens twice a day at high tide. Salty water soaks the tree roots, damaging them. 

Mayhew said, "The National Park service put out a statement with the number of cherry trees — I believe it's about 159 cherry trees are coming down — but they're going to replace them with more than double the amount."

The $113 million, three-year project will repair sea walls extending from the Tidal Basin along the Potomac River through West Potomac Park.

Mayhew said, "This will be a positive thing for the future generations of these trees and for people to come for years."