The peak bloom date is defined as the day in which 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino Cherry trees are in full bloom. Obviously, this is weather dependent and can vary from year to year; however, the actual Cherry Blossom Festival dates are "set" based upon the average bloom date of April 4th. In fact, taking a look at the statistics, it appears that peak bloom has taken place in a very broad date range, occurring as early as March 15, 1990 and as late as April 18, 1958 (courtesy NPS).
While National Park Service Horticulturists issue several bloom forecasts, they clearly state that "it is nearly impossible to give an accurate forecast much more than 10 days." The forecast for this year's peak bloom has been pushed back once already (from April 3 to April 6). The question on my mind: Will it need to be adjusted again?
According to the Park Service, we are in the midst of "Peduncle Elongation" as it began on March 31st. (see explainer graphics below.) Adam Caskey was at the tidal basin this morning and is a bit skeptical of the peak bloom beginning over the next few days. Although he admitted to seeing the elongation, this process usually occurs about 6 to 10 days out from peak bloom. According to information published by the NPS, this would still push the peak date back to April 6 to April 10th. Furthermore, by definition, there must be at least 20% blossom visibility for the blooming period to have officially begun, and, with our recent cold snap, I do not see how this can occur!
- Predawn April 2-Peduncle Elongation (courtesy Adam Caskey)
The way the National Park Service tracks the progress of the trees is by monitoring the progress of the 5 steps of growth. By monitoring these processes the horticulturist can adjust and update the bloom forecast accordingly. Here are the 5 steps and the corresponding imagery. Take a look and then you will be able to better understand the process whether you head down to the basin or not.
- 1. Green Color in buds 2. Florets visible 3. Extension of florets 4. Peduncle elongation 5. Puffy white - Courtesy: National Park Service
While there may be an "ist" in my title it is not horticulture "ist" - so I defer to them when it comes to blooms. But I just want you to know that if you have plans to go take in majestic beauty of the cherry tree, I would plan to visit later rather than sooner to enjoy sight in all of its glory. Plus the longer you wait the warmer the weather will be and more pleasurable experience you will have!
Final thought...if you cannot or do not make it down to see the Yoshino Cherry you are not 100% out of luck. Kwanzan cherry blossoms are provide a vibrant bloom and generally emerge two weeks later than the predominant Yoshino trees along the Tidal Basin. To catch a glimpse of these trees one need only to head over to the East Potomac Park south of the George Mason Memorial.
*Special thanks to Adam Caskey for his collaboration with me on this blog.