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Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival
Everything you want to know about DC’s cherry blossoms is right here
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 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.
Tell me more about the blossoms
Peak bloom is the magical moment visitors want to be on hand for during the 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 sea of pink and white. The National Park Service is responsible for measuring the growth of the buds of the trees, and each year predict when peak bloom will arrive. 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 and then on April 10 in 2014 due to a cold winter.
The blooming period, when 20 percent of the blossoms are open before the petals and leaves fall, can last up to 14 days, depending on weather conditions. "Forecasting peak bloom is almost impossible more than 10 days in advance," according to the National Park Service.
Last but not least, please do your part in helping to protect the National Mall and the cherry blossoms. We kindly remind you to look at the blossoms, but never pick them (it’s against the law).
The National Cherry Blossom Festival isn't just a celebration of the blossoms—it's a three-week-long cultural festival held all over the city. Get things started at the Pink Tie Party — a fundraiser featuring cocktails (with accompanying attire), cuisine, live music and dancing. The Opening Ceremony, a free event held at the Warner Theatre, includes traditional and contemporary performances from American and Japanese artists. Other popular events include the Blossom Kite Festival, Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade presented by Events DC, which is followed by the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival. For a full list of featured events, see our guide [link to NCBF Events article].
Fun Facts about Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms
- Did you know 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.
- Did you know 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.
- Did you know one of the earliest recorded peak blooms occurred on March 15, 1990, while the latest recorded peak bloom occurred on April 18, 1958?
- Did you know 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.
If you’re visiting the District and looking to snap the perfect photo, check out our guide to the top spots for photographing the cherry blossoms