Things to Do

Cherry Blossoms In Bloom

By Lauren Masterson

It’s official! Or the estimate is, anyway. According to the chief horticulturist for the National Park Service, Robert DeFeo, who gave a press conference this morning at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and along the National Mall are set to bloom on April 4, 2007—or some time between April 1 and April 7, anyway.

Possibly Washington’s biggest and most popular tourist event, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which takes place between March 31 and April 15, brings one million visitors and more than $150 million to the city, according to festival organizers. This year will mark the 95th anniversary of Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the District. Some 90 events and 200 cultural performances and demonstrations make up the festivities—including the parade (on Saturday, April 14), a Japanese street festival stretching six downtown blocks (also on Saturday, April 14), and installation works around the city by Yoko Ono. More events and their details can be found at this link.

Mayor Adrian Fenty was at the press conference, recalling memories of the festival from his youth and promising that he was training to compete in the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler for the third year in a row.  He also discussed the Department of Transportation’s initiatives for non-pedestrian travel, including one plan he was particularly excited about as a cyclist: a free bicycle valet service.

The press conference itself was quite an event, featuring a Mandarin Oriental breakfast, a drum-and-dance performance by Dance Asia (who will be featured in the parade), and sushi chefs demonstrating decorative sushi techniques and artful “sasagiri,” in which the chef uses a small knife to cut bamboo into beautiful designs.

There was notable relief when DeFeo announced his prediction, putting the blooming date smack in the middle of the festival, even though Sue Porter, the festival president, had tried to assuage fears by announcing that, cherry blossoms or no, tourists should be pleased with the extensive roster of events.

There was some concern about the blooms earlier, after January’s temperatures approached the 70s and some blossoms were seen peeking out. The Park Service assured the crowd that the trees that blossomed were not of the Yoshino variety that festival-goers wait for all year. The earliest recorded date that the trees have blossomed is March 15; the latest is April 18. As DeFeo assured the crowd, the trees are “the most reliable living specimens in the DC area.”

Want to celebrate the cherry blossoms a bit early? Try out the official drink of the After Hours Blog, the Black Cherry Blossom, created for us by The Liquid Muse