It’s that beautiful time of year again. That time when DC area residents notice that certain trees in their neighbourhood, the same ones which have blended into the background all year round, are beginning to look like large balls of pink cotton candy on a stick. That time when local media are keenly watching and reporting on the peak flowering period of the cherry blossom trees. That time, when tourists throng the Tidal Basin in droves, just to marvel at the natural springtime beauty that very briefly descends upon the city. Cherry blossom season in Washington DC is a sight behold, but the finicky nature of the flowers can make it hard to plan a weekend of pink blossom splendour.
Presented to Washington DC as a token of friendship from Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki in 1912, the trees usually begin flowering in early April, but this year’s warmer temps caused the blooms to peak in mid-March. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 20 to April 27, but here we are at the beginning of April, sans cherry flowers. While plenty of great events happen during the festival, the trees themselves are the main attraction. If there are no cherry blossoms in sight, most visitors end their trip with some disappointment.
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But all is not lost if you don’t catch Yoshino, the main species of cherry trees that frame the Tidal Basin, because it’s not the only type you can find in the area. Akebono, Sargent Cherry and Usuzumi are some of the others that dot the city-scape and line neighbourhood streets throughout the region. Others, like the Kwanzan, reach their peak bloom at a later time than the rest of their sakura tree counterparts.
The Yoshino might be belle of the ball, but to me, the Kwanzan is the star of the show. Its’ vibrant pink flowers form clusters so dense and dramatic that you can’t help but stop and take in the scene. They also seem tougher than the delicate pale pink blooms of the other species. A little gust of wind will cause a flurry of Yoshino petals to come raining down, but not the Kwanzan’s. This past Sunday, I stood on a quiet neighbourhood street (pictured below,) watching a row of Kwanzans dance spiritedly to a moderate breeze, yet no floral fluff escaped the clusters. Keep an eye out for them when you walk around the city.
But they don’t last long either. By the end of April, most will have vanished.
I’m also looking forward to the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival ($5 street festival admission) on April 14 this year. There’ll be colourful floats, samurai demos, J-pop music bands and anime characters coming to life on that day. Food and crafts are available too, for when the kids get hungry. With all this excitement, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for capturing some great scenes with my DLSR. And it’s a good reason to be outdoors, just make sure to bundle up if it’s cold!