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Cherry Blossom Festival 2012: Peak Bloom Date Announced

Today the National Park Service’s chief horiculturalist answered the question on Washingtonians’ minds.

Photograph by Flickr user cliff1066.

With today’s unexpectedly pleasant weather, a lot of people are wondering when the cherry blossoms will appear.

Wonder no more, Washingtonians. This morning, the National Park Service released its peak bloom prediction in a media conference at the Newseum.

The peak bloom date will likely fall between March 24 and 31, according to the Park Service’s chief horticulturalist, Rob DeFeo. Defined as the day on which 70 percent of the Yoshino blossoms (the hybrid variety that makes up the majority of the city’s trees) are open, the peak bloom is the subject of much speculation for arborists and much hand-wringing for National Cherry Blossom Festival organizers.

The peak bloom date varies each year depending on temperature, precipitation, and wind conditions. But as we all know, when the blossoms finally do burst, it’s something of a spectacle. They often emerge in force two days before the peak bloom and last up to two weeks after.

This year’s prediction is earlier than usual, thanks to a balmy winter, but it’s not the earliest by far. That distinction belongs to 1990, when the peak bloom fell on March 15. At the other extreme, the District’s latest peak bloom date was April 18, 1958. The average is April 4. Last year, the blossoms reached their zenith on March 29.

As for the media event itself, the mood was predictably pink. Rosy lighting in the Newseum’s atrium cast a blush over the crowd, and contingents from the DC city government, the Embassy of Japan, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival committee turned up in apropos pink-accented ties and blouses.

Mayor Vincent Gray (in a pink and red tie) spoke for several minutes, noting that last year’s festival-goers spent $126 million in the city. This year he hopes the expected one million visitors will spend at least $200 million during the five-week festival. “We invite everybody to spend every dime they possibly have while they’re in the city,” the mayor joked. “And we take credit cards.”

Other speakers included Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival (white jacket, pink blouse), and Japanese deputy chief of mission Kazuhide Ishikawa (navy-and-pink-striped tie). Also in attendance were Allison Speaker, the 2011 US Cherry Blossom Queen, as well as eight of the festival’s “goodwill ambassadors,” students of Japanese history and culture and international relations (in pink blazers).

The main draw, of course, was DeFeo (no pink in sight)–or rather, his blossom forecast.

“What I think I know at this point is that they’re going to be early,” he said. “My forecast this year is that the peak bloom is going to be sometime between March 24 and March 31.” He and Parks Service staff are monitoring the buds and will provide updates as appropriate.

“Whoever picked the festival dates picked them so they coincide with the earliest bloom date on record and the latest bloom date on record,” DeFeo observed. “So it’s a no-brainer that the cherries are going to bloom during the festival.”

For updates, see the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Bloom Watch. And for more about enjoying the festival, check out our Cherry Blossom Festival Guide.