Blossom CloudsBy Greg Weekes
After slogging through the occasional winter snowstorm, icy rains, often-gray skies and chilly temperatures, Washingtonians heave a collective sigh of relief at the arrival of spring. And no harbinger of the season is quite as definitive—or as glorious—as the blooming of the city's Japanese cherry trees.
Four different varieties of flowering cherry bloom in the city. Most predominant is the Yoshino; these are the trees that encircle the Tidal Basin and spill over onto the Washington Monument grounds. They produce a profusion of delicate, single white blossoms that in mass present the dreamlike illusion of banked clouds. Mingled among the Yoshinos are a few Akebono cherry trees, their pale pink blossoms providing a lovely contrast.
The Kwanzan cherry grows primarily in East Potomac Park, the elongated sliver of land just south of the Tidal Basin between the Potomac and Washington Channel. Single trees also can be seen in various locations throughout the city (several Kwanzan cherry trees flank the marble steps leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court building). Blooming approximately 2 weeks after the Yoshino variety, the Kwanzan—named after a Japanese mountain—has strong branches laden with heavy clusters of double pink flowers. Weeping Japanese cherry trees, which on average bloom about a week before the Yoshino, have gracefully arched branches and flowers ranging from single to double and dark pink to white.
Enjoying nature's glory to the utmost hinges on determining when peak bloom occurs (defined as the time when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry blossoms are fully open). This is not a scientific process, dependent as it is on the whims of weather. The National Park Service starts inspecting the trees once flower buds begin to expand in late February or early March, closely monitoring their development and issuing a prediction for the expected bloom period—hopefully coinciding with the National Cherry Blossom Festival .
Based on park service records, the long-term average peak blooming date is April 5 for the Yoshino trees and April 22 for the Kwanzan trees. Peak blooming date has been as early as March 15 and as late as April 18. All told, the last week of March and the first week of April together offer a very good window for seeing at least some blossoms. In good weather the flowers stay on the trees up to a week, although the blustery winds of spring storms can play havoc with their fragile beauty.
And where is the loveliest place in the city during peak bloom? For our money, it's the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial , looking out over the Tidal Basin, where you'll behold clouds of blossoms and the pastel greens of new spring leaves.
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