D.C. cherry blossoms: Peak bloom March 29-Apr. 3 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) - A National Park Service expert on Thursday predicted an early bloom for Washington's cherry blossoms, with warm temperatures already speeding the buds toward full bloom in late March.
Chief Horticulturalist Rob DeFeo said he believes the pink and white flowers will be at their best from March 29 to April 3, though the flowers can be seen in the days before and after those dates. The full bloom is predicted to fall in the middle of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs March 26 to April 10.
The average peak bloom date is April 4, according to the Park Service, so the first blossoms may come early this year.
"I look at the buds, and it's like a pregnancy," DeFeo said of his prediction. "They go through these five stages - and the only variable is the temperature."
The Yoshino cherry trees, which were a gift from Japan 99 years ago, are among "the oldest, most reliable things in the nation's capital," DeFeo said.
He said he has predicted the peak bloom dates correctly for 16 of the last 19 years.
High winds blew down the National Christmas Tree near the White House last month, but DeFeo said the cherry trees are healthy. About 100 of the original 3,000 trees from Japan in 1912 are still growing, while more than 2,900 have been replaced over time.
For the first time this year, there will be a charge for one of the festival events, the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, which has grown to be the largest Japanese festival in the United States. It drew about 150,000 visitors last year and is held during the festival's final weekend.
John Malott, president of the Japan-America Society of Washington, which stages the event, said they decided to charge a $5 entry fee for visitors age 13 and over because the Pennsylvania Avenue event had become too popular.
"The No. 1 complaint about the festival is it's too crowded. There are moments when people can't move," said Malott, a former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia and former diplomat based in Japan. "We consciously thought through how we could make it a better experience."
The fee is meant to reduce the crowd size and expand the festival, not to make money for the organizers, he said.
Most events over the two-week span are still free, said Cherry Blossom Festival President Diana Mayhew. It still won't cost anything to walk past the cherry blossoms, though visitors will have to navigate their way around sea-wall rebuilding work near the Jefferson Memorial. The cherry blossoms draw about 1 million visitors each spring.
By BRETT ZONGKER Associated Press
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