Washington is getting ready to celebrate 100 years of its famous cherry blossom trees, and the trees' head tender said Thursday that peak flowering season is expected at the end of March.
National Park Service chief horticulturalist Rob DeFeo predicted the peak bloom date for the pink and white flowers will be between March 24 and March 31. The peak date is defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms on the trees are open. The trees, which are expected to start blooming March 22, attract about a million visitors to the nation's capital each year.
"I can assure you, you're not going to see a late bloom. It's impossible," said DeFeo, who has helped tend and monitor the cherry trees for the past two decades and has only been wrong about the bloom dates three times.
DeFeo said cherry blossom trees survive for about 50 years, but the city still has just over 100 of the original 3,000 trees given to the city by Japan in 1912. Those original trees are near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial which opened in August. Thousands of other trees have been replaced or grown from the original trees' genetic line.
DeFeo says the average cherry blossom flower lasts four to 10 days, but that depends on the weather. If it's cool when the flowers bloom, they will last longer. The entire flowering period lasts approximately 10 to 18 days. The average peak bloom date is April 4.
"Like life, the blossoms come, they bloom, they're gone. Short but sweet," DeFeo said.
A celebration that accompanies the blossoming trees, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, is scheduled to run from March 20 to April 27, a five-week festival instead of the usual 16 days. During that period, museums will feature exhibits on Japanese artwork and culture, nearly 100 area restaurants will offer cherry and spring-inspired dishes and drinks and the city will host a parade April 14. In addition, both the United States and Japan have created a commemorative postal stamp to mark the anniversary.