The flowering of the Japanese cherry trees that adorn the great monuments of the American capital is one of the most awaited moments by Washingtonians, the definitive sign of the arrival of spring, one of the few moments of enjoyment that unites all its neighbors – rich and poor, black and white – all equally enraptured by the delicate beauty of its white and pink petals, the preferred setting for family photos, weddings and endless poses designed for Instagram.
This year, the beautiful show has arrived ahead of schedule. The trees reached their peak of flowering – defined as the time when 70% of the flowers of the yoshino variety have reached their fullness – arrived several days earlier than expected. Far from being an anomaly, the early arrival of flowers is an indicator of the climate crisis, warns the National Park Service.
Author and adventurer Eliza Scidmore mobilized the first lady to bring the beautiful trees to the United States.
“The empirical data shows that the peak of flowering for cherry trees is occurring earlier than in the past,” says its spokesman, Mike Litterst. Currently, it arrives an average of six days earlier than a hundred years ago, when Japan gave the trees to the United States as a symbol of friendship between its peoples and the average temperature of the North American capital was 1.6 degrees lower than today.
Every year it becomes more difficult to make forecasts but, in early March, meteorologists anticipated that the peak would arrive between April 2 and 5. However, the warm temperatures registered during the last week of March accelerated the flowering cycle of the 3,800 cherry trees that adorn the Mall, the national esplanade of Washington. The show arrived on March 29.
“Since heat breaks the dormant state of trees, the early flowering of cherry trees is consistent with the warming caused by climate change, although research has not yet determined all the potential factors that may have caused it,” explains Litterst. The jump from one stage of flowering to another has been the fastest in 30 years.
Last year, when the declaration of the state of emergency forced Washington to cancel at the last minute the Cherry Blossoms Festival that attracts 1.5 million visitors each year, the peak of flowering occurred even earlier, on March 20, a of the earliest dates in the last century. In 2018 he made himself wait until April 5.
This year, Washington’s cherry trees reached their peak two days after those in Kyoto, where the trees recorded an even more significant record: March 26 is the earliest date of their peak in bloom in the 70 years for which there are records. officers. Or perhaps in 1,200 years, according to estimates by the University of Osaka. Due to its sensitivity to temperature changes, the flowering time of Japanese cherry trees is considered an ideal indicator of the impact of climate change on the phenology of trees.
In most of the photos that visitors upload these days to Instagram it is not seen but the water that repeatedly floods the shores of the artificial lake in Washington around which the trees were planted is also an indicator of the crisis. Twice a day, the rise in the water level exceeds the concrete barriers, leaving the roots of some trees in the air and forced to close parts of the route.
The reason, the rise in the level of the Potomac River and the subsidence of the land around the lake as a result of erosion and traffic. This situation has led the authorities to call a contest for, while emergency repairs are being carried out, to devise solutions to save the lake, included in 2019 in the list of historical monuments in danger. On its banks stand the memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Franklind D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. It was in this setting that writer and adventurer Eliza Scidmore insisted that she wanted to see the cherry trees she discovered on a visit to Japan planted.
It took a lot of determination, the support of First Lady Helen Taft, the complicity of diplomats from both countries and several shipments, because the first two thousand trees arrived full of insects. But a hundred years later, the dream come true of Scidmore, the first woman to serve on the National Geographic board, continues to delight Washingtonians, even though this year there was no festival either, and fans have been encouraged to visit the cherry trees virtually.