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Cherry Blossoms: Earlier Bloom

It’s cherry blossom time! Not where you live, maybe, since these gorgeous pink or white flowers emerge earlier or later in different parts of the country. In Washington, D.C., though, where the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place, the time for peak bloom is now.


But “now” has been getting earlier in the year. The National Park Service has been tracking the peak bloom of thousands of trees throughout the nation’s capital for the past 80 years. Data show that from 1931-1960 the peak came on April 6 on average. If you look at the years 1981-2010, though, the peak happened (again, on average), on April 1. This year’s cool winter has pushed back the peak bloom to April 8, but year-to-year variability is to be expected.

This shift is just one more indication that spring weather has been coming earlier in the U.S. -- a change consistent with the fact that the planet is warming up overall thanks largely to emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Another sign: leaves have popped out earlier in the period 1991-2010 than they did from 1961-1980.

In Japan, meanwhile, where D.C.’s cherry trees originally came from as a gift from the Emperor in 1912, they’ve been having cherry-blossom festivals for more than a thousand years. And there, too, the date of peak blooming has been getting earlier over the past century or so.

If you plan to attend the national festival in 2050, don’t be surprised if it’s happening significantly earlier in the year. If it’s too early for your convenience, you could also plan on hitting another festival that always comes a couple of weeks later (it’s farther north), and which has more blossoming trees than D.C. The location might come as a surprise: it’s Newark, New Jersey.