Early cherry blossom bloom likely as ‘indicator tree’ buds on Tidal Basin

It is still winter, but the cherry trees around town wouldn’t know it. With these warmer temperatures, the National Park Service said it’s very likely the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin will bloom early this year.

The question is, could they break the bloom record of March 15?

“Everything at this point certainly leads us to believe that it’s going to be an earlier than average peak bloom,” said Mike Litterst with the National Park Service.

NPS have the data to predict peak bloom in two weeks, with a plan to announce it March 1, but Litterst noted the indicator tree — usually about 10 days ahead of the pack — is already active.

“The indicator tree reached stage one of the six stages that lead to being in bloom on the 13th, which was 10 days, or a couple weeks, earlier than it was last year. So just from that initially, we’re not only probably looking at an earlier than average date, we’re probably looking earlier than last year,” he said.

If the puffy, pink blossoms make an early appearance along the Tidal Basin, the dates of the National Cherry Blossom Festival can’t shift to accommodate the blooms. The festival runs March 20 through April 16. The dates of the Kite Festival and the parade also can’t be changed.

“But, we have not yet set the dates for when the Tidal Basin Welcome Area will operate, you know, that’s the place where people get maps and the Junior Ranger program runs on the entertainment stage. We actually hold off on setting those dates, and issuing those contracts, until we have a little better idea of when most people are going to be down to see them,” Litterst said.

Washingtonians may recall the blooms came early in 2022, with a peak bloom date of March 25 — drawing thousands to the National Mall midweek to see the cherry blossom trees in all their glory.

Questions about the state of the cherry blossom trees came about as flowering trees across the region are beginning to bud and bloom. The early show is prompting residents to share photos on social media and comment on the warm temperatures during this mild winter.

“There are certainly flowering fruit trees that are out — our plum trees came out already. They were about two weeks ahead of last year. The forsythia at the Martin Luther King Memorial; they were actually out on his birthday, which is early. Other species of cherry trees, we’re getting reports you know from neighborhoods and other places around the city where they’re out,” Litterst said.

If the temperatures drop again, that could hold the Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees on the National Mall from blooming in the coming weeks, however, it’s hard to predict this early in the year, he said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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