Cherry blossom season may be the most popular spring event in Washington, D.C. The catch? You only have a short window each year to see these beautiful blossoms bloom around the U.S. capital.
If seeing peak bloom is on your bucket list, start making arrangements to head to the nation's capital this week.
Flowering cherry blossom trees, known as "sakura" in Japanese, don't actually produce cherries at all — their "fruit" comes in the form of pink and white flowers.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual spring celebration in the capital, commemorates the gift of 3,020 Japanese cherry trees given by former Toyko Mayor Yukio Ozaki to the U.S. in 1912, which were planted in Washington, D.C.
If visiting the capital city for the annual cherry tree blossom is on your bucket list, or a trip is already on the calendar for this year, here's what you need to know about when the cherry blossoms bloom, how long they last and the best location for viewing.
When do the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington, D.C.?
In recent years, the bloom has trended earlier than the average, which the National Park Service reports is April 3. This year marks the fourth year in a row peak bloom is expected to occur in March.
However, the entire event is weather dependent and is hard to fully predict. In 2008, green buds, or the first phase of cherry blossom season, were recorded on trees as early as Feb. 19 and peak bloom occurred March 26. Conversely, in 2020, green buds were recorded Feb. 28 and peak bloom occurred March 20.
In January of this year, what appeared to be early blossoms sent residents into a frenzy, but the pink blooms were actually plum tree blooms, according to NBC affiliate NBC4 Washington.
NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst told NBC4 Washington that “the blossoms look very similar to cherries.”
“So invariably, when the plum trees come out, usually late January, early February, there is a lot of excitement that maybe the cherry trees are coming early this year, but they are two completely different species,” he said.
On Jan. 19, the National Mall National Park Service tweeted: “Usually the first trees to blossom on the National Mall each year, the lovely pink flowers on the Japanese plum trees begin to show in late January. You can see them now near the District of Columbia War Memorial, south of the Reflecting Pool.”
Since Washington, D.C., has experienced a warmer-than-usual start to the year, all signs indicate the bloom may occur earlier in the season.
On March 1, the NPS announced that their peak bloom projection this year, based on the appearance of green buds at the end of February, will be March 22 to March 25, 2023, and the Cherry Blossom Festival is being held March 20 to April 16.
How long do cherry blossoms last in peak bloom?
Peak bloom refers to the time when 70% of the Yoshino Cherry surrounding the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., are open. according to to the NPS, who conducts a yearly “bloom watch.”
Peak bloom lasts several days, but the exact length is entirely dependent on weather conditions.
"Cool, calm weather can extend the length of the bloom, and a rainy, windy day can bring an abrupt end to the ephemeral blossoms," the NPS explains on their website, continuing on to say that "a late frost can prevent the trees from blooming at all."
Where to see the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.
Due to the density of trees, the best location to see the cherry blossom blooms is around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, home of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. There are more than 3,800 trees within the park comprised of 12 different species.
While locations like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the steps of the Jefferson Memorial are top ranking spots for bloom peeping, there are other locations in Washington, D.C., to see the blossoms.
Consider Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, Hains Point Loop Trail or the U.S. National Arboretum to see cherry blossoms outside the Tidal Basin.