Nothing signifies the arrival of spring in the District quite like the blooming of the cherry blossoms, an event that has spawned a three-week festival celebrating the occasion. More than 1.5 million visitors descend upon Washington, DC each year to admire the 3,000-plus trees. The festival, full of events that honor both the American and Japanese cultures, represents a close bond forged between the United States and Japan that began with Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki’s gift of the trees back in 1912.
The 2015 National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place from March 20 through April 12.
The "peak bloom" is of main concern to many visitors during cherry blossom season. The peak bloom date is defined as the day when 70 percent of the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin have opened their buds, creating an unforgettable scene. The National Park Service is responsible for measuring the growth of the buds of the trees, and each year. the service gives a peak bloom prediction. On average, the peak bloom is on April 4, but that date changes year to year. For instance, 2012’s peak bloom occurred on March 20 due to unseasonably warm weather.
The blooming period, defined as the time when 20 percent of the blossoms are open before the petals and leaves fall, can last up to 14 days, depending on weather conditions. You can follow along on the National Park Service’s website for updates on this year’s cherry blossom blooming schedule.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes center stage throughout its three-week run, with events held all over the city. Get things started on March 20 at the Pink Tie Party—a fundraiser featuring cocktails (with accompanying attire), cuisine, live music and dancing. The Opening Ceremony, held on March 21 at the Warner Theatre, is a free event that includes traditional and contemporary performances from American and Japanese artists, kick-offs the festival in style. Other popular events include the Blossom Kite Festival (March 28), Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival (April 4) and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade presented by Events DC (April 11). For a full list of featured events, click here.
Washington, DC hotels get into the spirit of season with spring- and cherry blossom-themed room packages. When planning your stay this year, weigh the usual decisions—king-size bed or two queens, or proximity to the Tidal Basin—with exclusive bonuses, including bottles of Champagne, cherry-inspired goodie bags and cherry-blossomed themed cocktails. For a list of all the participating hotels, click here.
The first donation of 2,000 trees, received in 1910, was burnt to the ground on orders from President William Howard Taft. Insects and disease had infested the gift, but after hearing about the plight of the first batch, the Japanese mayor sent another 3,020 trees to DC two years later.
First Lady Helen Herron Taft planted the first tree in West Potomac Park. Many First Ladies, including Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, have officially commemorated the blossoms. On March 27, 2012, Michelle Obama took up the cause by planting a cherry tree to mark the centennial of the blossoms.
One of the earliest recorded peak blooms occurred on March 15, 1990, while the latest recorded peak bloom occurred on April 18, 1958.
The majority of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin are of the Yoshino variety. But another species, the Kwanzan, usually blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees, giving visitors a second chance to catch the blossoms.