Everything you need to know to enjoy D.C.’s most beautiful season
It’s that time of year again—the time when the nation’s capital blossoms into a symbolic reminder of the power of unity, community, and international friendship, doused in fragrant shades of pink.
More than 700,000 people visit Washington, D.C. each year to witness the blossoming cherry trees that herald the coming of spring. But for Washington, D.C. real estate owners, this time of year is an opulent amenity gifted by nature to those who call the nation’s capital their home.
The average peak bloom date for cherry blossom season in D.C. varies from year to year based on weather conditions (though with warmer temperatures this winter, in 2020, it’s likely to be mid-March). However, the time in which a majority of cherry blossom trees push forth their flowers runs roughly from the last week of March through the first week of April. For those lucky enough to live in the D.C. area, here’s what you need to know to enjoy the season:
Though the famous National Cherry Blossom Festival is a celebration commemorating the gift of Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to Washington, D.C. in 1912, the effort to bring cherry blossom trees to the nation’s capital began decades prior:
- 1885 - After returning from her first trip to Japan, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore approached the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds with the idea of planting cherry trees along the waterfront of the Potomac River. Her idea was initially rebuffed and continued to be turned down by every Superintendent over the next 24 years.
- 1906 - Prominent botanist David Fairchild imported 1,000 cherry trees from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan and planted them on his property in Maryland.
- 1908 - Fairchild donated saplings to every school in Washington, D.C., to plant on school grounds in observance of Arbor Day. During a speech, Fairchild proposed turning the area now known as the Tidal Basin into a field of cherries. Eliza Scidmore attended, and it sparked a new approach to the quest she began in 1885.
- 1909 - Scidmore wrote a letter to First Lady Helen Herron Taft, informing the First Lady of her plans to raise money, buy cherry trees, and donate them to the District for planting. Scidmore received a response two days later—the First Lady was on board. News of this plan found its way to the Japanese consul to New York City, who offered an additional 2,000 trees given in the name of Tokyo.
- 1910 - The cherry trees donated by the city of Tokyo arrived in the U.S. However, they failed to pass inspection and had to be destroyed to protect local growers.
- 1912 - With the coordination of Yukio Ozaki, the Mayor of Tokyo at the time, 3,020 additional cherry trees of 12 cultivars were sent to the U.S. and passed inspection. On March 27th, 1912, in a ceremony held by First Lady Taft in conjunction with Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, the first two trees were planted on the north bank of the Tidal Basin.
- 1915 - In gratitude, and to further develop the growing friendship between the United States and Japan, the U.S. government returned the sentiment with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.
- 1934 - The District of Columbia Commissioners, in joint sponsorship with numerous civic groups, held a three-day celebration of the flowering cherry trees adorning the capital.
- 1935 - The Cherry Blossom Festival was officially established as a national annual event.
- 1940 - A Cherry Blossom Pageant was established as part of the annual festival.
- 1965 - 3,800 more Yoshino cherry trees were gifted to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, with a majority planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
- 1994 - The festival was expanded to two weeks in order to accommodate the activities that take place during the trees’ blooming and has continued to expand ever since.
The history of Washington, D.C.’s cherry trees is one of deeply-rooted international friendship between Japan and the U.S., and it all began with First Lady Helen Herron Taft’s belief in Eliza Scidmore’s long endeavor to bring the beauty of Japan to the grounds of the nation’s capital. Since then, the trees have become a cherished tradition to maintain among the nation’s first ladies of the White House.
Cold temperatures in late winter tend to push cherry blossoms out later, while warmer temperatures moving from late winter into early spring bring the flowers earlier. This year, the National Park Service projects that peak bloom in Washington, D.C. will fall sometime between March 21st and March 24th.
Of the dozen types found in the nation’s capital, the Yoshino cherry tree is the most common you’ll witness in bloom, as it comprises about 70% of the capital’s collection. The Yoshino’s bloom process is relatively brief, but it’s a profound study in the fragility of beauty in constant transition:
- 1 Week Prior - Stroll along the east side of the Jefferson Memorial. Look for what’s known as the “indicator tree,” the one tree that consistently flowers ahead of its siblings and signals the coming of peak bloom. Another extraordinary precursor to peak bloom is the flowering of saucer magnolias, found in the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle.
- 3 to 5 Days Prior - Most of the buds on the cherry blossom trees are just beginning to pop. As the days draw nearer to peak bloom, the dark pink of the buds found on cherry blossom trees will gently give way to the elegant white flower petals emerging forth.
- 2 Days Prior - This is considered the unofficial start to peak bloom. It’s also the best time to observe the Yoshino flowers' gradual stages of transition from white to a delicate, pale shade of pink over the course of the season. Yoshino buds produce single white blossoms that collectively create a spectacular white cloud effect surrounding the Tidal Basin.
- Peak Bloom Day - The exact 2020 date has yet to be determined, but this is the day in which 70% of the cherry tree buds will have opened. Flowers emerging beforehand will have begun their color transition; however, the process flows from tree to tree in the days before and after. If you own a piece of Washington, D.C. real estate, then you know it isn’t necessary to run to the Tidal Basin on this exact date in order to revel in the splendor of the season.
- 3 to 7 Days After - The pivoting point in which the cherry blossom trees transition quickly from full bloom to falling petals as they blanket the ground in swaths of pink. If the wind is right, a stroll along the Tidal Basin around this time can turn into an ethereal walk amongst swirls of pink petals and sweet fragrances drifting along with the breeze.
- 2 to 3 Weeks After - If you miss the Yoshino’s peak bloom, don’t despair—this is when the Kwanzan cherry trees blossom forth another variety of beauty along the National Mall area. The average peak bloom of the Kwanzan falls around April 22nd, or approximately 15 days after the Yoshino reaches peak bloom. Kwanzan flowers are multilayered with a darker shade of pink by comparison. Smaller groves near Hains Point/East Potomac Park offer delightful photo opportunities, as the Kwanzan sits much lower to the ground than the Yoshino.
How long the blossoms last depends entirely upon the weather around the time of peak bloom. Ideal conditions for flowering cherry blossoms call for cool, dry, and relatively calm weather, which can see the entire Yoshino blooming season last up to 14 days.
Supporting the Cherry Trees
Every cherry tree that blooms along the National Mall is a beloved cultural symbol of the beauty derived from people working together. The Trust for The National Mall and National Cherry Blossom Festival are working together to preserve and protect D.C.’s legacy of international friendship through its official Cherry Tree Endowment. Limits to public funding aren’t enough to maintain the cherry trees that found their way to the nation’s capital, so community support is vital.
For all its complexity, America is a thing of beauty. It’s a land of potential, hope, and vision about what could be if we reach out to each other with gifts of friendship. Springtime in Washington, D.C. is a wondrous showcase of these gifts, with the cherry blossom trees that adorn the nation’s capital serving as its stars.
Looking for things to do in the D.C. area beyond the cherry blossoms? Visit our blog. Ready to purchase a piece of Washington, D.C. luxury real estate? Contact us today. It would be our pleasure to help you find your dream home in the capital region.