Warm winter triggers early cherry tree bloom on National Mall, but spares showstoppers

The Higan cherry trees occasionally bloom during the fall and late-winter months, especially during stretches of warm weather. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

The recent warm winter weather, including back-to-back 70-degree days last weekend, has given cherry trees on the National Mall the reason to flower — two months before the start of the annual cherry blossom festival.

But, don’t worry; they’re not those cherry trees.

Predicting peak bloom dates is a yearly tradition for the National Park Service, local hospitality providers, tourists and locals trying to time their visit to the Tidal Basin. But the annual bloom watch focuses on Yoshino cherry trees.

The trees flowering now are Higan cherry trees.

“They’re autumnal bloomers,” said Brian Hall, National Park Service spokesman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks. “You’re going to see lots of branches blooming, but not the full tree.”

Most of the Higan cherry trees are on the grounds of the Washington Monument, Hall said.

There are a total of 11 different kinds of cherry trees on the National Mall, Hall said, and all are gifts from Japan. “They sent over a variety, because they didn’t know what was going to work in our climate here,” he said.

As for the showstopping Yoshinos, despite the warmer than normal winter, Hall said upcoming cold weather should help slow their progression.

“All it takes is a good cold snap for the trees to go into dormancy,” he said. “The trees basically go to sleep, seal up and save everything.”

Even without a solid freeze so far this winter, Hall said park service arborists believe the trees aren’t rushing to bloom. “They’ve gone out to examine them, and there’s nothing to indicate that we’re doing anything earlier than normal,” he said.

The National Park Service typically makes its peak bloom prediction in early March.

The 2020 National Cherry Blossom Festival is set for March 20-April 12.

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